Archive for September, 2012

Shouldn’t we be punished for our own sins?

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

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ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to get this kind of interaction in person or on a Christian forum on the Internet:

Question is simple and I will use the Amalekite infants as an example [1 Sam 15:1-35 ESV]. Did they truely (sic) deserve to die considering they were only guilty by association? Granted some of the Amalekites deserved to die, but it seems rather cruel to kill off even the infants who were not responsible for anything. With that in mind, if infants are born with a sinful nature like all humans are, do they deserve to be thrown into hell like the rest of us according to the bible?[1]

Another replied:

The bible is not consistent. Ezekiel 18 indicates we are not responsible for our father’s sin or anyone’s sin but our own. No. Infants are not born guilty of anything and no body is thown (sic) into a place of torture by a loving God. The wages or consequences of sin is death–not life everlasting being tortured.[2]

My response was as follows:[3]

This is nothing more than your opinion. The Bible is very consistent, but our interpretations represent our major problems and your statement here is representative.
Yours is a rather short-sighted view.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch address this matter in Hard Sayings of the Bible (1996. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, pp. 177-179). I highly recommend this source as one of the finest in dealing with tough verses in Scripture. They address this issue when responding to,

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InterVarsity Press

Deuteronomy 24:16: Should Children Be Punished for Their Parents’ Sins?

The principle governing Israelite courts was that human governments must not impute to children or grandchildren the guilt that their fathers or forebears accumulated. In Scripture each person stands before God as accountable for his or her own sin.

While this principle is acknowledged in Deuteronomy 24:16, there seem to be cases where it was not put in practice. For example, the child born to David and Bathsheba died because of their sin (2 Sam 12:14-18). And Saul’s seven grandchildren were put to death because of Saul’s sin (2 Sam 21:5-9). How are we to reconcile these contradictory sets of facts?

Some will also bring up the fact that the sins of the fathers have an ill effect on the children to the third and fourth generations (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9). Surely this is a direct contradiction of the principle in Deuteronomy 24:16.

But Deuteronomy 24:16 is dealing with normal criminal law. It explicitly forbids blaming the children for the sin and guilt earned by the parent. If the son deserves the death penalty, the father must not be put to death in his place, or vice versa. This point is repeated in a number of texts, such as 2 Kings 14:6, 2 Chronicles 25:4, Jeremiah 31:30 and Ezekiel 18:20.

The legal principle of dealing with each individual according to individual guilt is one side of the equation. The other side is that God has reserved for himself the right to render all final decisions. Not all situations can, or are, resolved in human courts. Some must await the verdict that God will give.

There is a third element that must be accounted for as well. This notion is difficult for Westerners to appreciate, since we place such a high premium on the individual. But Scripture warns us that there is such a thing as corporate responsibility. None of us functions in complete isolation from the society and neighborhood to which we are attached. Lines of affinity reach beyond our home and church groups to whole communities and eventually to our nation and the world in which we live.

There are three factors involved in communal responsibility in the Old Testament. First is unity. Often the whole group is treated as a single unit. In 1 Samuel 5:10-11, for example, the ark of God came to Ekron of the Philistines. Because the bubonic plague had broken out in the previous Philistine cities where the ark had been taken, the Ekronites cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” The whole group sensed that they would share in the guilt of what their leaders had done in capturing the ark of God.

Second, sometimes a single figure represents the whole group. Rather than someone who embodies the psychology of the group, this is a case of one, such as the suffering Servant of the Lord, standing in for many others.

The third factor is oscillation from the individual to the group, and vice versa. The classic example appears in Joshua 7:11, where the Lord affirms, “Israel has sinned,” even though Achan confesses, “I have sinned” (Josh 7:20).

Each situation must be evaluated to see whether it is a principle of a human court that is involved, a divine prerogative of final judgment or a case of corporate solidarity. We in the West still understand that one traitor can imperil a whole army, but we do not always understand how individual actions carry over into the divine arena or have widespread implications. Scripture works with all three simultaneously.

In the case of David and Bathsheba, it is clear that the loss of the baby was linked to the fact that David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, though Uriah remained determined to serve David faithfully in battle. This did not involve a human court but was a matter of divine prerogative.

The story about Saul’s seven grandchildren takes us into the area of national guilt. Saul violated a treaty made with the Gibeonites in the name of the Lord (Josh 9:3-15). The whole nation was bound by this treaty made in Joshua’s day. Thus when Saul, as head of the nation, committed this atrocity against the Gibeonites, it was an act against God and an act that involved the whole nation. A divinely initiated famine devastated the land until the demands of justice were met. When David inquired into the reason for the famine, God answered, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death” (2 Sam 21:1).

Saul and his sons had already fallen in the battle at Mount Gilboa, but his household shared in the stigma. Only God knew why the seven grandchildren shared in the guilt; it is not spelled out in the text. Apparently they had had some degree of complicity in the matter. Because only God knew, it was up to God, not a human court, to settle such cases.

As for the commandment that has the sins of the fathers visiting the children to the third and fourth generations, we can only observe that the text clearly teaches that this happens when the children repeat the motivating cause of their parents’ sin—that is, they too hate God. But when the children love God, the effect is lovingkindness for thousands of generations!

Both individual responsibility and group or communal responsibility are taught in Scripture. We must carefully define and distinguish these types of responsibility. But in no case should the principle of courts be to blame children for the wrongful deeds of their forebears. And if God demanded that principle as a basis for fairness in human governments, should we think he would do any less in the running of his own government?

No one will ever be denied eternal life because of what his or her forebears did or did not do. Each will live eternally or suffer everlasting judgment for his or her own actions (Ezek 18). Our standard of what constitutes fairness and justice, after all, is rooted in the character of God himself.

The graciousness of God and his swift move to forgive and to forget every sin that we call upon him to cleanse is seen in Exodus 34:6?7. The theme of these verses is essentially repeated in Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 116:5, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2 and Nahum 1:3.

But God’s grace is balanced by the last part of Exodus 34:7, which warns that “[God] does not leave the guilty unpunished.” The reverse side of the same coin that declares God’s mercy and his love speaks of his justice and righteousness. For the wicked persons who by their actions tend to second their father’s previous motions by continuing to sin boldly against God as their fathers did, with no repentance, this text again warns that the chastisement of God will be felt down to the “third and fourth generation.” However, note carefully that the full formula includes the important qualifier “of those who hate me.” But wherever there is love, the effect is extended to thousands of generations!

In this connection, it is important to note that 2 Samuel 12:14 likewise declares about David’s sin with Bathsheba, “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” While it true that David was thoroughly forgiven of his sin of adultery and complicity in murder (see Psalms 32 and 51), there were consequences to his sin that could not be halted, for they followed as inexorably as day follows night. To put it in another way, just because God knows that a mugger will accept him as Savior a number of years after a mugging, God does not, thereby, turn the molecular structure of the bat used in the mugging, and which is now descending on the head of an innocent victim, into limp spaghetti; it leaves permanent damage on the skull of its poor unsuspecting target. The case of David and Bathsheba is similar: the consequences of sin are as real as the creation of a new life that comes out of a sexual affair. This in turn gave occasion for the enemies of God to vaunt themselves and demonstrate even further contempt for God, his people, and their alleged different style of life. It was for this reason that God brought immediate judgment on David: “the son born to [him would] die.”

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Do infants deserve hell since they are born in a sinful nature?’ Ultima4257 #1, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7689287/ (accessed 22 September 2012).

[2] Ibid., Elman #2.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #14.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Can Jesus Christ’s resurrection be investigated as history?

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon for some to say that Jesus’ resurrection cannot be investigated as history because nobody was there to see the actual resurrection.

Please follow this discussion I had on Christian Forums with Armistead14. I’m OzSpen. Armistead14 wrote, ‘I like theology, I believe in it, but I know it’s not science or history’.[1] My response was, ‘So was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in history or not? Can the discipline of historiography be used to investigate the actions of Jesus or not?’[2] His reply was:

Certainly historiography {I assume you mean the bible} can be used in reference to his life, possibly death, but not the resurrection. The question remains what are the historical sources. The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death, not by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living later. The Gospels were written by highly literate, trained, Greek-speaking Christians of the second and third generation. They’re not written by Jesus’ Aramaic-speaking followers. Also, the Gospels terribly contradict the death and ressurection (sic) process. Now, this may not be a problem with theology, but it certainly raises historic issues. Yes, we have other later secular sources and beliefs, but none prove historically that Jesus was in fact dead or his resurrection.
Certainly, you can’t use historical sources to prove the resurrection, that is theology, it is an act of God, one we accept based on faith.[3]

My response was, ‘Your statements are loaded with your presuppositions. I don’t have the time to challenge them at this point. Richard Bauckham has challenged your view on eyewitnesses in his magisterial publication, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans 2006)’.[4]

He came back: ‘I’ve actually read it, but I still find it based on theology and it’s historical aspects lacking authority. We have several “saviors” in history that had followers claim they rose from the dead. Apillonius (sic) appeared to his followers after his death, do you believe their historical accounts? Anyway, take care until later’.[5]

I also stated:

Don’t you understand how dishonest this is? Luke’s Gospel directly contradicts your view on eyewitnesses as Luke tells us from where he obtained his information in Luke 1:1-4 and that incorporates

‘those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word’ (Luke 1:2 ESV). What causes you to create your own information when the Gospel of Luke directly contradicts you?

In addition, John makes it very clear who wrote his Gospel. John the apostle is identified in John 21:20-23 and then John, the writer of the Gospel states, ‘This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true’ (John 21:24 ESV).

I find your explanations to be as misleading as some of the theological liberals I am currently reading with regard to the content of the Gospels (Crossan, Borg, Mack, Funk and the Jesus Seminar).

Why are you pumping this scepticism out on this Forum? Your assertions, without proof, amount to nothing more than your opinion.[6]

I asked him at another point, ‘So are you trying to convince me that Apollonius of Tyana is on the same level as Jesus Christ as Saviour and provided eternal salvation for you and me? Or are you yodelling?’[7] His reply was that ‘No, I’m saying how can you prove or disprove the claim of his followers that he rose from the dead. The question is one of historical claim, not based on faith’.[8] I replied:

So have you used the criteria of historicity to examine the claims of the historicity of the resurrection of Apollonius of Tyana to determine that they are equal to or superior to the claims for the historicity of the Gospel records?

We use the criteria of historicity to determine the reliability of a historical claim. Down through the years, a number of researchers have used these criteria to demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels. One example is Craig Blomberg, a solid historian and NT researcher, in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1987, IVP).

You are sounding more and more like a cynic towards the historicity of the NT Gospels. The facts are that Jesus was crucified, buried in a tomb, the tomb was empty on the Sunday morning, and then Jesus appeared alive and talking to people. Are you doubting this sequence?[9]

Armistead14’s response was:

I don’t doubt it based on theology and faith. I can accept the historical validation that Christ existed and died, but the resurrection is theology, not historical fact. God raising Christ is a miracle, they’re are no historical validation test to prove miracles.[10]

How does one reply to the claim that the resurrection is theology, not history, and there is not a historical way to test if miracles happened? This was my response:

You are providing your positivist bias that has been followed by some historians who have attempted to investigate Christ’s resurrection historically. You say that Christ’s resurrection is theology and you reject the resurrection as “historical fact” (your language).

Tom (N T) Wright in his massive historical investigation of the resurrection (2003) has refuted your kind of positivistic thinking . Wright, writing of a positivist historian (Marxen), stated:

‘In standard positivist fashion, it appears to suggest that we can only regard as “historical” that to which we have direct access (in the sense of “first-hand witness accounts” or near equivalent). But, as all real historians know, that is not in fact how history works. Positivism, is, if anything, even less appropriate in historiography than in other areas. Again and again the historian has to conclude, even if only to avoid total silence, that certain events took place to which we have no direct access but which are the necessary postulates of that to which we do have access. Scientists, not least physicists, make this sort of move all the time; indeed, this is precisely how scientific advances happen [he cited Polkinghorne 1994; Alden Smith]. Ruling out as historical that to which we do not have direct access is actually a way of not doing history at all’ (Wright 2003:15-16).

Wright cites Via (2002:82), saying that Via

is right to say that history moves from fragmentary evidence to full-blown reconstruction, but wrong to imply that this takes place in a kind of neutral zone free from all theological or religious presuppositions (Wright 2003:16, n. 30).

Are you telling me that an examination of historicity of an incident does not include interpretation, including theological? It is common in historical assessment to know that a record of an historical incident also includes interpretation of that incident.

As to the resurrection of Christ, while nobody was there to see the actual resurrection, there is enough evidence from the historicity of Christ’s death and being placed in the tomb, an empty tomb on the first day of the week, and the resurrection appearances of Christ to people, to conclude that he was raised from the dead.
Your view that there is “no historical validation test to prove miracles” is a positivistic statement for which there is the above rebuttal.[11]

Prior to this last post, he wrote:

For instance, all the differing stories about the women at the tomb. The woman at the tomb purchased spices in anticipation of annointing (sic) a dead body, not finding a resurrected man, but this is obvious foolish, why would they expect they could put spices on a body in a tomb whose covering stone they couldn’t remove? This makes no sense to me. The visit of the women looks like literary invention designed to create witnesses to the Empty Tomb. Maybe this is why we have so much confusion between the gospels regarding which women, number of women, what time of day, numerous issues.

The problem is all these issues make possible eyewittnesses (sic) impossible to historically validate with any probability.[12]

Here he is on his positivist bandwagon again. If we required eyewitnesses to every historical event, we would give up writing history as Tom Wright has clearly stated. This was his response:

Wright is a NT conservative scholar, not an historian, although I would imagine he has some training in the field, but like Craig he wants to insert theology as proof, that is worse than Positivism.

Positivism states that the only authentic knowledge is that which allows positive verification. It is more a belief that a model. I think you misunderstand how modern historians work. Historians for the most part

NEVER claim absolute knowledge or verification, they work based on probabilities. Historians can deem what probably happened. Sure, the more authentic info you have, the higher the probability an event happened. Compare Julius Caesar, we have a mass of real information from a mass of unbiased sources. Historians can pretty much positively agree Caesar existed. Compare that to Socrates, historians can’t say with high probability he existed.

Science and history validation use different methods for validation, not sure what your point is. Science can test over and over, history cannot. Historians can only study the people and their beliefs. Historians will use all info, including the bible, but they look for consistency to a story, if the story is full of contradictions, then they often conclude a story was made up, so the event may not have happened. For instance, the example I gave of the women coming to prepare Christ body with spices, but the tomb was sealed. It would take many men, tools and animals to unseal the tomb. The story makes no sense, so historians would dismiss these women as witnesses.

Certainly historians consider theology of the people, but to study the actual people. Again, numerous beliefs have the same claim as Christianity, risen saviors, miracles, etc. The most history can do is prove that the people existed and believed what they did. Just because a group believes something, that doesn’t make it true. If that were the case all religions could be claimed truth.

Do you know of one scientific or historic validation test you could use to prove a past miracle such as the resurrection?[13]

I replied:

N T Wright, as a NT scholar, has to deal with history. He provided historical information that refutes your positivistic view.

Nowhere have I ever stated that historians seek absolute knowledge. NEVER. Please do not try to put words in my mouth. That is a false accusation against me.

His words were, “Do you know of one scientific or historic validation test you could use to prove a past miracle such as the resurrection?” That’s your positivism again! You can’t get around the fact that historians have done this for years and years but reporting things for which there have been no direct eyewitnesses, but the evidence surrounding the situation leads to historical probability.

You are on your one-way track and you do not want to apply what Wright has stated about historicity and verification when there are no eyewitnesses.

This is an example of your bias when you state: “Compare Julius Caesar, we have a mass of real information from a mass of unbiased sources”.

ZERO historical sources are unbiased. You are living in unhistorical fairyland if you want unbiased sources.[14]

Australian historian and exegete, Dr. Paul Barnett[15], in his publication, Jesus & the rise of early Christianity, after doing the research for his book, stated:

I express my surprise at the degree to which the story of the New Testament can be recovered by standard methods of research and analysis even though the whole narrative, of course, is lost to us forever because of the unbridgeable distance of time and culture that separates us from those critical decades of the first century that witnessed the rise of Christianity (Barnett 1999:10).

An ancient historian deals with Jesus’ resurrection and miracles

At the time he wrote the following, Dr. Paul Barnett was a visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Barnett was also the evangelical former Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia. Barnett (1999:22-23) wrote about ‘history and myth’ as he examined the New Testament:

book cover

InterVarsity Press

Are miraculous events within the New Testament to be understood as historical or as mythological? If it is understood as historical, are such miraculous events to be given the same factual weight as are the nonmiraculous events in the New Testament? For example, are we to regard as equally factual Jesus’ journey to the lakeside and the feeding of the five thousand after he arrived there?

Were all miracles in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the letters (Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12) to be regarded as mythological, whether in line with Jewish or Greco-Roman myths? Alternatively, was there a small core of miracle-events to which many others have been added in embellishment? Or did Jesus perform acts that at that time were genuinely regarded as miracles but that people today would explain in more naturalistic ways?

First, any inquiry into this subject must begin as a historical investigation. Pannenberg’s remark about the resurrection of Jesus applies also to miracles. ‘Whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead is a historical question insofar as it is an inquiry into what did or did not happen at a certain time’ [Pannenberg 1967:128].

This inquiry in turn depends on a number of factors. How many and of what quality are our historical sources and how uncorrupted have they remained through the intervening years? What is their character? Are they intentionally written as history, or, to be preferred, is their information incidental and gratuitous to other authorial intent? How extensive is the accompanying detail of person, time and place? Can the sources reliability be crosschecked at other points? In short, the same investigative methodology ought to be applied to Jesus and the rise of early Christianity as to Alexander the Great and the eastward spread of Hellenism.

Next, miraculous events should be reflected upon in terms of stereotypicality or originality. If the details are similar to the stock-in-trade descriptions within existing contemporary mythological genres of that culture, serious questions will arise. On the other hand, if the accounts are atypical, the possibility of historicity is enhanced. Thus, for example, if the miracles of Jesus were described in the same terms as the miracles of Jewish “holy men” like Hanina ben Dosa and Honi “the circle-drawer,” there would be some cause for critical caution regarding the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ miracles. In our view, however, this is not the case. The Jewish hasids Hanina and Honi are portrayed as merely devout individuals within the Judaism of their repective (sic) times. By contrast, Jesus is presented as the intensely intentional fulfiller of the end-time purposes of God.

Only when the question of historical probability is determined does it become a philosophical issue.[16] Do I believe in a supernatural being who is capable of intruding his will into the otherwise “natural” appearance of the course of events? If my answer is negative, then I will dismiss the miracles in the New Testament as unhistorical and account for them in terms of myth. On the other hand, if my response is positive, then I may well conclude that the strength of historical evidence demands acceptance of the historicity of the events.

The view taken by this author is that the miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed. Those authors were convinced of the truth of the miracles and wrote their accounts out of that conviction. Those accounts, when subjected to the tests of rigorous historical inquiry, stubbornly resist our efforts to discredit and remove them.

‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Pet. 1:16).

For a useful discussion on ‘Jesus and the practice of history’, see Barnett (1997:15-28).

Note the emphasis by Dr. Paul Barnett, an ancient historian, when he stated that

the view taken by this author is that the miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed. Those authors were convinced of the truth of the miracles and wrote their accounts out of that conviction. Those accounts, when subjected to the tests of rigorous historical inquiry, stubbornly resist our efforts to discredit and remove them (1999:23).

Professor of history, Dr. Earle E. Cairns, wrote:

Rationalists and empiricists have denied their possibility [the miracles of Christ] and have sought to explain them by natural law or to explain them away as myths. The latter necessarily involves a denial of the records as historical. Miracles may be defined as phenomena not explicable by known natural law but wrought by a special intervention of Deity for moral purposes.

The possibility and probability of miracles is demonstrated by the supernatural, creative Christ and by the existence of historical records that give accounts of such miracles as historical facts. The person and work of Christ received authentication in the eyes of many in His day because of the miracles He wrought (Cairns 1981:52)

Eminent professor of church history, Philip Schaff, has assessed the historical understanding of the resurrection of Christ:

The Historical view, presented by the Gospels and believed in the Christian church of every denomination and sect. The resurrection of Christ was an actual though miraculous event, in harmony with His previous history and character, and in fulfilment of His own prediction. It was a re-animation of the dead body of Jesus by a return of His soul from the spirit-world, and a rising of body and soul from the grave to a new life, which after repeated manifestations to believers during a short period of forty days entered into glory by ascension to heaven….

Truth compels us to admit that there are serious difficulties in harmonizing the accounts of the evangelists, and in forming a consistent conception of the nature of Christ’s resurrection body…. But these difficulties are not so great as those which are created by a denial of the fact itself. The former can be measurably solved, the latter cannot (Schaff 1882:109-110).

These historians affirm the historicity of Christ’s resurrection and miracles. They can be examined with the normal means of historical investigation. We can say, as an extension of Pannenberg’s understanding, that whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead, whether or not Jesus and others performed miracles, with these matters we are dealing with a historical question if we are examining what did or did not happen at a certain time in human history.

This is not to say that there may not be some difficulties in examining this historical data, but, as Paul Barnett has stated above, ‘Miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed’ (Barnett 1999:23).

References

Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester, England: Apollos (Inter-Varsity Press).

Barnett, P 1999. Jesus & the rise of early Christianity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Pannenberg, W 1967. The revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, in J M Robinson & J B Cobb (eds), New frontiers in theology, vol 3, 101–33. New York: Harper and Row.

Schaff, P 1882. History of the Christian church (online), vol 1, CCEL. Available at: http://www.whitehorsemedia.com/docs/HISTORY_OF_THE_CHRISTIAN_CHURCH_01.pdf (Accessed 20 July 2012).

Via, D O 2002. What is New Testament theology? Minneapolis: Fortress.

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘William Laine Criag (sic)’, Armistead14 #49, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7685885-5/ (Accessed 22 September 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #50.

[3] Ibid., Armistead14 #51.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #52.

[5] Ibid., Armistead14 #53.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #62.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen #57.

[8] Ibid., Armistead14 #58.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen #61.

[10] Ibid., Armistead14 #75.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #98.

[12] Ibid., Armistead14 #97.

[13] Ibid., Amistead14 #99.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen #103.

[15] The rear cover of this publication states that at the time of its writing, ‘Paul Barnett is Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia, visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and research professor at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia’.

[16] At this point Barnett’s footnote states, ‘For useful discussion on miracles and history, with particular but not exclusive interest in the resurrection of Jesus, see Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans 1993), pp. 1-42’ (Barnett 1999:26, n. 41).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 March 2017.

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Differences between orthodox theism and panentheism

Friday, September 14th, 2012

One God

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Within liberal Christianity, there is a false theology of panentheism that is practised. On the scholarly level, there are books such as that by Episcopalian Marcus Borg (1997) that support this redefinition of God. He stated that this is his view of God:

Panentheism as a way of thinking about God affirms both the transcendence of God and the immanence of God. For panentheism, God is not a being “out there.” The Greek roots of the word point to its meaning: pan means “everything,” en means “in,” and theos means “God.” Panentheism thus means “everything is in God.” God is more than everything (and thus transcendent), yet everything is in God (hence God is immanent). For panentheism, God is “right here,” even as God is also more than “right here”[1] (Borg 1997:32).

(Marcus Borg, courtesy Wikipedia)

The New York Times (26 January 2015) reported the death of liberal historical Jesus scholar at the age of 72.  He had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis.

Anglicans Down Under ask:

May Anglicans be panentheists?

Many Episcopalians are panentheists, at least according to no lesser an authority than Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (on an interview on Lutheran radio, with transcript via Virtue Online):

“WILKEN: On that issue of “people-of-faith” the subtitle of the book is “Finding the Sacred in the Middle of Everything.” so it might sound to some like pantheism. Do you believe that the “sacred”, as you define it, is found in all religions?
JEFFERTS SCHORI: Yes, I think it probably is. We’re not pantheists, many Episcopalians might be understood to as “panentheists”. The difference being that pantheists see everything as God and panentheists see God reflected in all of God’s creation. When we talk about human beings being made in the image of God that’s a piece of what we are talking about and we would extend that to all of creation. “

But being part of a ‘diversity-in-unity’ Communion, if it is okay for Episcopalians to be panentheists, it is okay for any Anglicans to be panentheists.

On the popular level, there are comments like these to support panentheism:

I believe that all are in God and God is in all. There is nowhere that God is not. No place, no moment, no thing where God is not present. Thus, in the end, we are in God and we return to God (though, to be honest, our separateness from God is illusion)….[2]

I believe that all are in God and God is in all and to God we all return. I don’t know the details. It is not given for me to know the details. So, I can explain no further. I have never been to the afterlife. Thus, I cannot say what it is, where it is, what it is like, or furnish any other detail.[3]

I’m not “saved” through the redemptive work of the Christ. I don’t believe in substitutionary atonement or many other theories of atonement. Jesus was Savior and Christ for me because his life was truly a “with God life.” He exemplifies a life lived completely an fully in the transformative-relational power of God. As, such he is my exemplar.[4]

The approach to salvation I take (that I live and move and have my being in God, and thus can never be separate from God and to God I will return…whatever that may mean in the end of my life.) does come from scripture, as interpreted by process theology and my own experience. I’m not very concerned about the afterlife. Like Reform Judaism (which has profoundly influenced both my theology and view of end of life things), I think that our lives as lived now are far more important than what will happen when we die. Whether I cease to exist or there is a conscious afterlife existence, I will love God, work with God, and serve my fellow human beings, other creatures, and the earth that God created and continues to create in every moment of existence. I trust in God that “all that can be saved will be saved (myself included).”[5]

He explained further: ‘Christianity is the language, the symbolism, the lens through which I am able to approach divinity, because it’s symbols and language are what I know and what speak to me’.[6]

Panentheism, not to be confused with pantheism, has the literal meaning, ‘all in God’. It is also known as process theology, ‘since it views God as a changing Being’. It is sometimes called bipolar theism as ‘it believes God has two poles’ (Geisler 1999:576). By contrast, pantheism means ‘all is God’.

Panentheists agree that God has two poles: (1) an actual pole, which is the world; and (2) a potential pole – beyond the world. This is not the view of Almighty Yahweh God revealed in Scripture. It is a liberal invention of God that does not line up with Scripture as the article by Geisler demonstrates.

What is theism? Briefly, ‘theism is the worldview that an infinite personal God created the universe and miraculously intervenes in it from time to time. God is both transcendent over the universe and imminent in it’ (Geisler 1999:722). However, that kind of description could apply to the three dominant theistic religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

What is the difference between theism and panentheism?

Norman Geisler has provided this helpful summary of the main contrast with the orthodox doctrine of God:

Theism Panentheism
God is Creator. God is director.
Creation is ex nihilo. Creation is ex materia.
God is sovereign over world. God is working with world
God is independent of world God is dependent on world.
God is unchanging. God is changing.
God is absolutely prefect. God is growing more perfect.
God is mono-polar. God is bi-polar.
God is actually infinite. God is actually finite.

From Norman L. Geisler 1999. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p. 576. Geisler’s article can be found at: Panentheism – Part One; Panentheism – Part Two.

Panentheists agree that God has two poles: (1) an actual pole, which is the world; and (2) a potential pole – beyond the world (Geisler 1999:576).

(Photo courtesy Southern Evangelical Seminary)

 

Pantheism: The god of syncretism [7]

When Episcoboi supports panentheism, he is picking and choosing from the Bible and he is really a syncretist with regard to God. His God is not the God revealed in Scripture and made manifest through Christ’s life and death. He admitted his syncretism:

I guess my way is syncretic. I come from a background that includes significant time in Reform Judaism. In Reform Judaism, God is affirmed as being One, but what is meant by “God” is different to different Jews in the Reform movement. Also, in Reform Judaism, afterlife beliefs are of secondary importance to this life and the way it is lived. Actually, my definition of God, defined as panentheism, is definitely found in Scripture. Or else, where did the early Chassidic Jews get it. Or, where do many modern and historic Rabbi’s get it from. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of Conservative Judaism, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s theology was deeply grounded in Torah and his Deep Theology shares many aspects with process theism. Rabbi Michael Lerner. I’m using these examples as proof that there is biblical (at least in the Hebrew Bible and Tradition) for my theology, agnosticism about the afterlife, etc. It may not be apparent in the NT, but it is definitely scriptural.

Again, my way is syncretic. But, that also stems from my belief that all religions have truth and the divine in them.
You can learn more about the God I’m talking about by talking with Rabbi’s, especially of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Movements in Judaism. And, from biblical scholars, theologians, and teachers from the Christian tradition such as John Cobb, Catherine Keller, Bruce Epperly, David Ray Griffin, Marjorie Suchocki, Rita Nakashima Brock, and Charles Hartshorne.[8]

If he is not interested in what happens when he dies, he again affirms that he is not a supporter of biblical Christianity. His definition of god is from a different source than the Scriptures of the OT and NT. This is his agnosticism about what happens at death:

I’m not a total agnostic. Only about the afterlife. I never say that I’m the ultimate authority. I’m only saying that I leave afterlife to God who knows. I think that how we live in this life is of much more importance than spending time speculating about what the afterlife is or what it may be like. From God we come and to God we return. The Hebrew Bible is not very clear and really doesn’t deal overmuch with the afterlife. The new testament also does not deal a lot with what the afterlife may or may not be like. In the NT there is much talk about redemption and salvation, but not much detail about the afterlife.

A study of Jewish theological development shows that the idea of an afterlife of reward and punishment only began to develop after the Babylonia Captivity and only came to be truly developed in the Hellenistic period and the early Rabinnic (sic) period. To this day even Orthodox Jews will tell you that they believe in Olam Haba, but cannot go into great detail about what it is.

I don’t seek honor by being agnostic about the afterlife. I only seek to say, “I don’t know.” That is not a matter of pride, just a simple statement of fact about my life experience.[9]

This is false! The NT does speak considerably about life after death. See the exposition by Robert A. Morey 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers. See the article by Robert Morey, ‘Sheol, Hades and Gehenna’. See also Death and the Afterlife, Terence Nichols. I also refer you to my articles on this homepage, Truth Challenge:

Episcoboi says he loves God? Which God is he talking about? What are this God’s attributes and how can we learn about his God? Where do I go to find this God’s attributes? The summary by Geisler above is an adequate overview to know that this is not the God of Scripture who was manifest in Jesus Christ. He’s another god. This is not the view of Almighty Yahweh God revealed in Scripture. It is a liberal invention of god, derived from theism, that does not line up with Scripture as the articles by Geisler demonstrate.

What is biblical theism?

Henry Thiessen has provided a brief definition of biblical theism as

the belief in one personal God, both immanent and transcendent, Who exists in three personal distinctions, known respectively as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the position of Christian Theism…. It is a form of monotheism, yet not of the Unitarian, but of the Trinitarian type. The Christian holds that since all the other [theistic] beliefs … have a false conception of God, his view is the only truly theistic view (Thiessen 1949:49).

References

Borg, M 1997. The God we never knew. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Carson, D A 1996. The gagging of God: Christianity confronts pluralism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] At this point he had the endnote,

I sometimes seek to explain the difference between supernatural theism and panentheism by inviting my students to imagine how one might diagram God in relationship to the universe. I suggest representing the universe as an oval. Where is God in relationship to the universe? Supernatural theism thinks of God as being outside the oval; God and the universe are spatially separate. Panentheism would represent God as a larger oval that includes the oval of the universe; God encompasses the universe, and the universe is in God. Of course, these diagrams cannot be taken literally. It does not make sense to think of either the universe or God has having borders, as the ovals suggest (Borg 1997:51, n.2).

[2] Christian Forums, Theology, Soteriology, ‘What is your view of salvation?’, Episcoboi #44, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7685449-5/ (Accessed 14 September 2012). I have interacted with him as OzSpen.

[3] Episcoboi, ibid., #58

[4] Ibid., #68.

[5] Ibid., #70.

[6] Ibid., #46.

[7] Syncretism is used here to mean ‘attempts to merge alien or opposing practices or beliefs from diverse religious systems’ (Carson 1996:249, n.109).

[8] Episcopboi, #72.

[9] Ibid., #74.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 June 2016.

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Are unthinking Christians normal for Christianity?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Think

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

I was reading Bill Muehlenberg’s excellent article on the need for more Christians to think. It was his call to have a renewed mind and respond to the challenges of our secular world in, ‘Let my people think’.

Then came Kurt Skelland’s ‘troll’ by way of response:

If Christians starting thinking there would be no Christians left!

“Most people would rather die than think. And most do.”
Bertrand Russell.

Thinking is inimical to the fanciful claims of religion.[1]

Secularists’ false claims

It is not uncommon to read these kinds of statements on websites of skeptics or atheists. Take a read of a leading skeptic, Paul Kurtz, ‘Why I am a skeptic about religious claims’.

How do we respond to Kurt Skelland’s skeptical claims?

1. ‘If Christians starting thinking there would be no Christians left!’

This is a clear example of someone who doesn’t know the content of the Christian Scriptures. If Kurt’s claim were true, there would be absolutely no use for these Christian statements:

  • Luke 10:27, Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’ (ESV).
  • Ephesians 4:22-24, ‘to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’ (ESV).
  • Romans 12:2, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (ESV)

It is obvious that the Bible teaches: (1) Loving God with our whole beings, and (2) After we become Christians, we are to put off the old way of thinking and be transformed by renewed thinking in the mind.

This is the problem which non-Christian people (unbelievers) face, ‘The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Cor. 4:4).

Kurt has another problem with the Christian faith.

2. Why choose a Bertrand Russell quote?

Honourable Bertrand Russell.jpg

Bertrand Russell 1916. Courtesy Wikipedia

Kurt cited Bertrand Russell, “Most people would rather die than think. And most do”. What’s significant about that? Russell is a friend of skeptics, agnostics and atheists.

On the practical level, this quote may be true for a lot of people. But who was Bertrand Russell? Was Russell an agnostic or atheist? This is what Russell stated:

I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.[2]

Even in this article, Russell admitted, ‘On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods’.[3]

I have quoted Bertrand Russell at times, but this is to refute his claim on a topic. He said, ‘I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive’[4], and I cited it in my article, ‘Will you be ready when your death comes?’ Bertrand Russell now knows the truth of what happens after death and he will have found that it is very different from what his agnosticism/atheism taught him. Bertrand Russell died on 2nd February 1970.

How do I know? Jesus died and rose from the dead. He has assured all people of what will happen at the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). I commend to you Dan T. Lioy’s article, ‘Life and death in biblical perspective’.

Kurt’s Bertrand Russell quote would have only passing significance if it were not for his other emphases in his troll statement. His other emphasis was:

3. ‘Thinking is inimical[5] to the fanciful claims of religion’

In other words, thinking and Christianity do not go together. Notice what Kurt does. He provides not one shred of evidence to support his claim. He is into sloganeering by giving us his opinion. Whenever somebody does this, we need to call them to account by asking things like these:

  • So you are giving us your opinion in one foul swoop of a slogan. That carries as much weight as a car driver, with no engineering experience, going over Brisbane’s Gateway Bridge and saying, ‘That’s not the proper way to build a bridge. Those fanciful engineers didn’t know what they were doing when they built that bridge that way’. You know such a statement had fanciful, irrational overtones. So has Kurt’s claim about thinking being hostile to religion come with evidence?
  • You would never win good grade in any exam with that kind of evidence. You gave zero evidence to prove your point. You’ve made a nonsense statement because it is your idiosyncratic opinion that comes with nothing to back up your claim.
  • Get real. I’m a thinking Christian and I don’t buy into your thoughtless comments.
  • Your statement really is antagonistic to what you are trying to prove. Your statement is inimical (hostile) to thoughtful people who might want to take you seriously.

However, Kurt’s kind of statement can be found all over the www in relation to religion. These are a few grabs that Google helped me find quickly.

  • Freud, ‘religion was our “collective neurosis”’ (HERE);
  • ‘When it comes to magic, religion, politics, geography, on and on, you can write whatever you can dream up as long as you make it consistent within your world’ (HERE).
  • ‘Religion is fantasy. Everything that you have been taught about religion is wrong’ (HERE).
  • ‘The ties between fantasy and religion are quite strong’ (HERE).
  • ‘Religions, like everything else, evolved from earlier myths’ (HERE).

Kurt is echoing the statements of other skeptics. The Los Angeles Times published an article, ‘Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds’ (April 26, 2012). The article begins with this statement:

Scientists have revealed one of the reasons why some folks are less religious than others: They think more analytically, rather than going with their gut. And thinking analytically can cause religious belief to wane — for skeptics and true believers alike.

The study, published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, indicates that belief may be a more malleable feature of the human psyche than those of strong faith may think.

Another report on this research stated,

In some ways this confirms what many people, both religious and nonreligious, have said about religious belief for a long time, that it’s more of a feeling than a thought,” says Nicholas Epley, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. But he predicts the findings won’t change anyone’s mind about whether God exists or whether religious belief is rational. “If you think that reasoning analytically is the way to go about understanding the world accurately, you might see this as evidence that being religious doesn’t make much sense,” he says. “If you’re a religious person, I think you take this evidence as showing that God has given you a system for belief that just reveals itself to you as common sense (The Huffington Post, 27 April 2012).

So religion is more of a feeling than a thought! That’s not what Jesus thought when he told us that we are to love God with our mind. Also, there is no point in the Christian renewing the mind if thinking is unimportant for the believer. I’m reminded of how the Bereans were commended for their Christian faith:

The brothers[6] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:10-11).

So these Bereans were thoughtful Jews who checked out the apostle Paul to see if what he stated agreed with their Scriptures. Jews/Christians who think have been part of Christianity from the beginning of the Christian era.

4. Conclusion

Kurt is an example of a fly-by-night sceptical, sloganeering person who is motivated to present slogans on a Christian website (Bill Muehlenberg’s Culture Watch). These kinds of people are stirrers who don’t want to present sustainable content with which we can dialogue.

In fact, they are self-refuting in their approach. Kurt wanted to condemn Christians for not being thinkers but his actual post demonstrated to us that he is the one who is not a thinker. If he were thinking about his post, he would be providing sustainable arguments to demonstrate that religion (Christianity especially) is fanciful. And these would be arguments with which we Christians could interact.

Kurt has demonstrated that he is not seeking truth and he did not present truthful statements about why he thinks that Christianity is fanciful.

What is truth?

See:

Preference or truth?’ (Greg Koukl)

What is truth?’ (Paul Copan & Mark Linville)

The nature of truth and exclusivity’ (Ravi Zacharias, YouTube)

Embodied truth’ (Ravi Zacharias)

Why truth matters’ (Os Guinness)

What is truth?’ (J P Moreland, YouTube)

Notes:


[1] Kurt Skelland, 14 September 2012, available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/09/13/let-my-people-think-2/comment-page-1/#comment-269299 (Accessed 15 September 2012).

[2] Russell, Bertrand. “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? A Plea For Tolerance In The Face Of New Dogmas.” Positive Atheism Web Site, available at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm (Accessed 14 September 2012).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cited in Richard Dawkins 2006. The God Delusion. London: Black Swan (Transworld Publishers), p. 397. This is from Bertrand Russell’s 1925 essay, “What I believe”. It is available for free download HERE.

[5] ‘Inimical’ means ‘unfriendly; hostile’, according to dictionary.com at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/inimical?s=t (Accessed 14 September 2012).

[6] The footnote in the ESV at this point stated, ‘Or brothers and sisters’.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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The creation of the sun on day 4: Actual days or day-age of millions of years

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Sunset

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

If the common evolutionary perspective is accepted, then the days of Genesis 1 are considered very long periods of time. An example of this explanation is that of Rich Deem, with his support for the Day-Age theory,

I believe in what has been called the “day-age” interpretation of Genesis one – that is, that each “day” is actually a long period of time during which God created life. This interpretation is not figurative in any way, but adheres to the scientific method in its analysis of the biblical texts. At its foundation is a literal translation of the Hebrew word, yom, which can mean a twelve hour period of time, a twenty-four hour period of time, or a long, indefinite period of time. The biblical basis for the translation of the word yom as long periods of time appear on another page.

Evidence to believe’ claims the following:

Based on the evidence, we submit:

  •  That the Day-Age interpretation is the more reasonable interpretation
  •  That when one properly reads Genesis 1, going back to the original language, one find(s) no contradiction with the findings of modern science.  In fact, one finds confirmation of the Biblical record in modern scientific findings!
  •  That one can fully accept from a literal perspective the Genesis 1 record, accept the proofs from science of an old universe and old earth, and still be consistent in their beliefs about God and science

Consistency between the Bible and science is what we should expect.  For if the Creator of the heavens and the earth also inspired the writers who penned the words of the Bible, why shouldn’t we expect the discoveries of science to support the Bible?  It would be surprising if they did not.[1]

Brad Bromling gives a contrary view:

The ancient Hebrews hardly could have imagined that the creation week was any different from theirs. Thus when the Ten Commandments were issued, requiring them to observe a day of rest, it was natural for the creation week to serve as their model (Exodus 20:11). It is doubtful that any of the Jews who heard this command raised a hand to inquire about the duration of either their week or God’s. Regardless of what the astronomers and cosmologists may say about the age of the Universe, Genesis describes a creation week comprised of ordinary days. Contemporary efforts to reinterpret these days succeed neither to enhance confidence in the truthfulness of Scripture nor to accommodate current age calculations.

For a similar view that supports literal 24-hours for the days of Genesis 1, see ‘How long were the days of Genesis 1?’ from Creation Ministries International.

An exegetical understanding, based on Genesis 1 grammar

There is an explanation that harmonises Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:14-19 that John H. Sailhamer (1990:33-34) has suggested. This is involved with the meaning of ‘the heavens and the earth’ in  Gen. 1:1  which reads, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (NIV)

If the phrase, ‘the heavens and the earth’, refers to the universe or the cosmos (which seems to be the most likely understanding), then it is taken in the same sense as throughout the Bible as in passages like Joel 3:15-16. Thus, the creation of the universe would include the sun, moon and stars according to Gen. 1:1.

This is the kind of objection that is commonly raised:

According to the Bible, on what day was the sun created?[2]…. I’ve read conflicting opinions. Most of which say the 4th day but that begs the question “How can you have 3 days without a sun?”[3]….

[4]Sailhamer’s exegesis and exposition stated that the place to begin with an understanding of the fourth day of creation (Genesis 1:14-18) is to view the whole of the universe (including the sun, moon and stars) to have been created ‘in the beginning’ (Gen. 1:1) and NOT on the fourth day.

If we try to understand the syntax of Gen. 1:14 and it is compared with the creation of the expanse in 1:6, the verses have two different senses. The syntax of 1:6 suggests that God said, ‘Let there be an expanse’. God was creating an expanse where there had not been any previously. So the author of Genesis clearly wanted to state that God created the expanse on the first day.

But when we come to 1:14, the syntax in the Hebrew is different though in English the translations are often very similar to 1:6. Gen. 1:14 states:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years (NIV).

In 1:14, God did not say, ‘Let there be lights … to separate’ in the Hebrew language, as if there were no lights before that and the lights were created. Instead, the Hebrew text reads, ‘And God said, “let the lights in the expanse of the sky separate”‘. So, instead of the syntax of 1:6, in 1:14 God’s command is assuming that the lights were already in the expanse and that in response to the command of 1:14 they were given a purpose, ‘to separate the day from the night’ AND ‘to mark seasons and days and years’. However, this grammar is not seen in the English translations. Let’s look at a few of them:

  • NIV, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night….’;
  • ESV, ‘And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night….’
  • NLT, ‘Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night….’
  • KJV, ‘And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night….’
  • NASB, ‘Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night….’
  • NRSV, ‘And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night….’
  • New Jerusalem Bible, ‘God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night….’
  • NET, ‘God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night….’

None of these actual translations convey the grammatical difference that causes us to understand the Hebrew grammar, ‘Let the lights in the expanse of the sky separate…’ The New Living Translation (NLT) comes closest with, ‘Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night….’

What is the grammatical difference? The syntax of Genesis 1:6 uses hayah alone, while in Genesis 1:14, it is hayah + l infinitive (Sailmaher 1990:34).

Conclusion

The exegetical response, with God’s revelation (Scripture being the decider), is that if we are to understand the grammar of Gen 1:14 correctly, the author does not state that this was the creation of the lights, but the narrative assumes that the heavenly lights were already created. What is the assumption? The lights were created ‘In the beginning’ as stated in Genesis 1:1.

I’m indebted to John Sailhamer for this explanation and it makes sense when the grammar is considered.

I leave that for your consideration. I do not find the regular secular scientific and doubting argument about literal days to hold much theological ‘water’. It is designed to create doubt when the Hebrew grammar seems to fix the supposed problem.

Works consulted

Sailmaher, John H 1990. Genesis, in Frank E Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, pp. 1-284.

Notes:


[1] This conclusion is based on science being the final arbiter over the Bible’s exegetical statements from Genesis 1. The alleged scientific, evolutionary conclusion is the decider. Human reason usurps the role of God’s revelation. It makes Scripture fit into the scientific framework, which is intolerable for biblical revelation.

[2] RayComfort #1, 9 September 2012. Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘On what day was the sun created’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7686289/ (Accessed 10 September 2012).

[3] Ibid #8.

[4] Much of the following response was given by me as OzSpen at ibid #16.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 6 May 2016..

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