But Does it Move? John Lennox on Science and the Bible

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July 4, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by John Lennox. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

But Does it Move? John Lennox on Science and the Bible

Note: As it says at the top of the BioLogos Forum homepage, “We believe that charitable engagement of different perspectives within the Church helps sharpen our thinking and deepen our commitment to the truth that is hidden in Christ.” In that spirit, today we begin a three-part series taken from chapter 2 of Dr. John Lennox’s recent book, Seven Days that Divide the World.

Though Lennox disagrees with several specific BioLogos positions (points he makes clear in later chapters), there is much we agree upon: namely, the trustworthiness of scientific evidence for an old earth, and the compatibility of an old earth with a faithful reading of Genesis. Most importantly, though, Lennox displays exactly the kind of gentle argumentation that we try to model through the Forum as a whole, and that should be a distinctive characteristic of Christians in the public square. We have recently featured Roger Nicole's work on that topic, and are pleased to be able to present this essay from Dr. Lennox as an example of both gracious dialogue and sound principles for interpreting scripture.

How Should We Understand the Bible?

The issue at stake in the Galileo controversy is, of course, how the Bible should be interpreted. So let us think about some general principles of interpretation before we apply them to the moving-earth controversy.

The first obvious, yet important thing to say about the Bible is that it is literature. In fact, it is a whole library of books: some of them history, some poetry, some in the form of letters, and so on, very different in content and style. In approaching literature in general, the first question to ask is, how does the author who wrote it wish it to be understood? For instance, the author of a mathematics textbook does not intend it to be understood as poetry; Shakespeare does not intend us to understand his plays as exact history, and so on.

Next, one should in the first instance be guided by the natural understanding of a passage, sentence, word, or phrase in its context, historically, culturally, and linguistically. The Reformers emphasized this in their reaction against the kind of interpretation that (to cite an ancient example) took the four rivers mentioned in Genesis 2—the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates—to represent the body, soul, spirit, and mind, respectively. By contrast with this “allegorical” method of interpretation, the Reformers adopted an approach described by the Oxford English Dictionary in its definition of literal: “that sense or interpretation (of a text) which is obtained by taking its words in their natural or customary meaning, and applying the ordinary rules of grammar; opposed to mystical, allegorical, etc.,” and “hence, by extension, … the primary sense of a word, or … the sense expressed by the actual wording of a passage, as distinguished from any metaphorical or merely suggested meaning.”1 Of course, there is nothing new in this way of understanding literature: it is what all of us use every day in our reading and conversation, without even thinking about it.

The importance of considering the natural understanding of a passage is clear, when it comes to the basic teaching of the Christian faith. The crucial thing about Christianity’s fundamental doctrines is that they are first and foremost to be understood in their natural, primary sense. The cross of Christ is not a metaphor. It involved an actual death. The resurrection is not an allegory. It was a physical event: a “standing up again”2 of a body that had died.

But this basic principle needs to be qualified. For instance, when we are dealing with a text that was produced in a culture distant from our own both in time and in geography, what we think the natural meaning is may not have been the natural meaning for those to whom the text was originally addressed. We shall consider this issue in due course.

At this stage we make a few general remarks about the way in which we use language. Some of us will be familiar with what I am about to say, but many of us may not have thought much about how we use language—we are too busy using it to bother. However, it will help us greatly if we spend just a little time thinking about this matter.

Firstly, there can be more than one natural reading of a word or phrase. For example, in Genesis 1 there are several instances of this. The word “earth” is first used for the planet, and then a little later for the dry land as distinct from the sea. Both times the word earth is clearly meant literally, but the two meanings are different, as is clear from their context.

Next, in many places a literal understanding will not work. Let’s take first an example from everyday speech. We all understand what a person means when they say, “The car was flying down the road.” The car and the road are very literal, but “flying” is a metaphor. However, we also are well aware that the metaphor “flying” stands for something very real that could be expressed more literally as “driving fast.” Just because a sentence contains a metaphor, it doesn’t mean that it is not referring to something real.

For a biblical example, take Jesus’ statement, “I am the door” (John 10:9). It is clearly not meant to be understood in the primary, literal sense of a door made of wood. It is meant metaphorically. But notice again that the metaphor stands for something real: Jesus is a real doorway into an actual, and therefore very literal, experience of salvation and eternal life. We should also note that the reason why we do not take this statement literally has to do with our experience of the world. We know about doors, and our experience of them helps us decide that Jesus is using a metaphor. We shall return to this point later.

Furthermore, it is impossible, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, to speak of things beyond our immediate senses without using metaphor. Scientists, therefore, use metaphor all the time. They talk about light particles and wave packets of energy; but they don’t intend you to imagine light as literal tiny balls, or energy as literal waves on the sea. Yet in each case the metaphor is describing something real—literal, if you like—at a higher level.

To make things more complicated, but also more interesting, sometimes both a primary and a metaphorical sense can occur together. Take the ascension of Christ, for example. In its primary sense it refers to the literal, vertical ascent of Jesus into the sky that was physically observed by the disciples.3 However, there is more to it than that. The literal upward movement carries a deeper meaning—he ascended to the throne of God. For instance, when we say that Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne of England in 1952, we do not simply mean that she got up onto an ornate chair in Westminster Abbey. She did that, of course; but that (literal) getting up on the chair was at the same time a metaphor for her (literal) assumption of real power over her people. Similarly, the (literal) ascension of Christ is a metaphor of his (literal) assumption of universal authority.

In each of these examples we see how the word literal can turn out to be inadequate and even misleading, since there can be different levels of literality. It is therefore common nowadays to reserve the word literalistic for an adherence to the basic, primary meaning of a word or expression, and literal for the natural reading as intended by the author or speaker. Thus, reading the phrase “the car was flying down the road” in a literalistic way would mean understanding the car to be actually flying. Reading it literally—that is, in the natural sense—would mean that the car was going very fast. However, this usage of literal is not agreed by all, which often leads to confusion. We must, therefore, be careful with our use of literal.

I recall once talking about the Genesis creation narrative with a well-known astrophysicist, who suggested to me that it was primitive to believe the Bible. To illustrate a point, I wrote on his blackboard: “And God said, let there be light. And there was light.” He said: “That sounds really primitive. You don’t really believe it, do you? It suggests that God has a physical voice box and speaks like we do.” In other words, my colleague was taking the word “said” in its primary, natural, human sense—he was taking it literalistically. I laughed, and told him that it was now he who was being primitive. Of course God, who is spirit, doesn’t have a physical voice box, but he can communicate. In other words, the expression “And God said” denotes real, literal communication, but we do not have the slightest idea as to how it is done.

The word said means something different for God than it does for us,4 but the two usages are sufficiently related for one word to do both jobs effectively. The reason I was amused when my astrophysicist friend made his remarks is that, as I reminded him, scientists use metaphors all the time without batting an eyelid. They, of all people, should not complain when the Bible uses them.

As a general point, it is worth recalling a perceptive remark made by Henri Blocher: “Human speech rarely remains at the zero-point of plain prose, which communicates in the simplest and most direct manner, using words in their ordinary sense.”5 What Blocher means is that we all use metaphors in our ordinary conversation. How colourless life would be without them.

There is more that could be said about the use of language, but perhaps we now have enough to grasp the basic idea. And I am sure the last thing the reader wants is for this book to turn into a lengthy lesson in English grammar!

It would be a pity if, in a desire (rightly) to treat the Bible as more than a book, we ended up treating it as less than a book by not permitting it the range and use of language, order, and figures of speech that are (or ought to be) familiar to us from our ordinary experience of conversation and reading.

If we take this into account, the answer to the question, “At what level should a text be read?” is often obvious. We take the natural, primary meaning; and if that doesn’t make sense, we go for the next level. For example, Jesus’ statements “I am the door” (John 10:9) and “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48). But there are instances where the answer does not seem to be so obvious, in the sense that believers in all ages who are fully convinced of the authority of Scripture come to different interpretations. What should we do in such a situation? That was the hot-button question in the time of Galileo.

In part 2, Dr. Lennox applies these lessons to the historical controversy about whether the earth moves and what the Bible has to say (or not say) about it.

Notes

1. This is often called “the literal method.” We shall discuss the use of the word literal below.
2. This is the meaning of the Greek word anastasis, used in the New Testament for “resurrection.”
3. See Acts 1, written, it should be observed, by the historian Luke, who, as a doctor, had the nearest approximation to a scientific education of any of the New Testament writers. For Luke’s appreciation of the questions arising in connection with science and miracle, see David W. Gooding, According to Luke (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1987), 37ff. For a scientific viewpoint see John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2009), chap. 12.
4. Indeed, when God speaks to certain people in the Bible, he uses human language, though how he does so is, of course, unknown to us. One might go further and say that God’s speech is the primary kind and that human speech is derivative—in the sense that we are made in God’s image.
5. Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1984), 18.


John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an adjunct Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and is a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum. In addition, he teaches for the Oxford Strategic Leadership Program at the Executive Education Centre, Said Business School, Oxford University. He is author of several books, including Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #70832

July 5th 2012

IMHO, we need the opportunity to discuss the preview of the question concerning the Image of God and evolution.  It doe4s not make sense to discuss different articles on this question, then not be able to discuss BioLogos’s position before the discussion of these articles has been completed.

With that said let me give you my comments.

The first positive thing is the implicit acceptance of a relational understanding of reality.  The problem with this is that this was explicit in the discussion, but only generally implicit in the Question.

A second positive thing is the recognition of the Image of God as spiritual and relational, the ability to relate to God.  It also should be noted that it is the ability to consciously and morally relate to others and the universe/environment.  Humans not only have the ability to relate to God and others in a positive, constructive manner, they have s responsibility to do so.

Thus the ability to relate in a positive manner and the responsibility to relate in a positive are two sides of a coin.  One cannot separate one from the other in theological terms. 

This thinking leads in my experience to understanding humans as physical/rational/spiritual beings or complex/one persons, created in the Image of the Triune God.  

The problem we have with science as it exists today is that it does not recognize the reality of the Spirit, which is non-materail or even of the rational, which also non-material.  Therefore many scientists do not recognize the reality of the Image of God, whether it is the ability to make rational decisions or to live in a purposeful, moral manner. 

Thus it do not think that it is really true to say that the creration of humans in the Image of God does not conflict with science.  If nature is strictly physical and humans and other living beings are a part of nature, then it follows that humans and other living beings must be strictly physical. 

On the other hand if nature is not strictly physical, if it was created by God through the Logos to be rational with rational laws and to have a Teleos or Purpose, then the continuity between the physical universe, organic life, and humanity through ecology and evolution makes sense and give the universe the wholeness that it needs to be a “cosmos,” and “uni-verse” a diverse unity, a complex/one. 

Thus the continuity between humanity and the physical lifts the physical up instead of dragging humanity down, because that is the way God established the Creation.  On the other hand the Greeks saw the physical as inferior to reason.           


Francis - #70838

July 5th 2012

“… in Genesis 1 …the word “earth” is first used for the planet, and then a little later for the dry land as distinct from the sea. Both times the word earth is clearly meant literally, but the two meanings are different, as is clear from their context.”

Similarly, the word “day” can have more than one literal meaning. It can mean “daytime” (e.g. when the sun is shining on you), or a 24-hour period covering daytime and nighttime, or a much longer time period (e.g. ‘Back in my father’s day they would walk five miles through the snow to go to school!’ or “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” [Gen 2:17]).

I started searching for “day” in the Old Testament and have been struggling to find uses which mean something longer than a 24-hour period. I’m fairly confident instances (other than Gen 2:17) exist, but haven’t had any luck in my short investigation.

I’d be willing to bet that by far the most common O.T. use of “day” is for the 24-hour meaning. But regardless, when the author goes out of his way, six times out of his way, to explicitly define what he means by day (e.g. “And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.” [Gen 1]), then

I’m confident he means a 24-hour period.

 

 

This article’s preface by BL notes: “the trustworthiness of scientific evidence for an old earth, and the compatibility of an old earth with a faithful reading of Genesis.”

I’d like to offer the following exercise for our thinking and imagination.

Assume a hypothetical: Evolution Theory does not exist; we have no discussions or disagreements or controversies regarding evolution because nobody believes in it.

If that were the case, how much time and space would be devoted to discussions or disagreements or controversies about the age of the earth? Specifically, would we see anywhere near the attention that the “evolution/old earth” combo receives? If not, why not?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70840

July 5th 2012

Francis,

First of all the OT was not written in English, so the word the author wrote was not day, but the Hebrew word “yom,” which can have other meanings than day.

There is external evidence that the author was fitting the account of the Creation into a 7 day framework to explain the origin of the Sabbath.  This does not mean that it is wrong, but it gives a theological basis, rather than a scientific basis for 7 days. 

Generally theological concerns trumped the scientific concerns for the Jews whose primary contribution to our lives is salvation, not science.  Praise God.  God believes in diversity of gifts and did not give the Jews all information about creation, only a Covenant with God.

People have known about dinosaurs for some time.  Do you really think that people would really ignore the fact that these huge animals roamed the earth long before humans, but are not accounted for in Genesis?

Evolutionary theory is not the problem for YEC.  The natural history of the earth is the problem for YEC.  Pangia is the problem for YEC.  Oil and coal are the problems.  Fossils are the problem.            


Francis - #70843

July 5th 2012

Roger,

You wrote “Do you really think that people would really ignore the fact that these huge animals roamed the earth long before humans, but are not accounted for in Genesis?”

Why do you say dinosaurs aren’t accounted for in Genesis? The word “dinosaurs” isn’t used, of course, but neither, for example, is “amphibians” or “ungulates.”


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70844

July 5th 2012

Francis,

I really do not like to criticize the Bible, but do you really think that there was room in Noah’s ark for dinosaurs? 


wesseldawn - #70977

July 9th 2012

The dinosaurs died out long before Noah’s ark!


wesseldawn - #70976

July 9th 2012

Genesis does speak of the dinosaurs, or rather the possibility of them: they began in the oceans (Gen. 1:22 - sea creatures grew to immense size, i.e. whales and larger). Some amphibious sea creatures left the sea to live on land - just as birds came from the water.


Francis - #70846

July 5th 2012

Roger,

You asked me “do you really think that there was room in Noah’s ark for dinosaurs?”

Why do you assume dinosaurs were on the ark? Maybe no dinosaurs were in Noah’s particular area. Or do you think that, to fulfill God’s command, Noah had to tour the entire planet like a global dog catcher?

I think God would see to Noah loading what was necessary.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70849

July 6th 2012

Francis,

(Gen 7:21- 24 NIV)  Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind.

(22)  Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.

(23)  Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

(24)  The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

Genesis is clear.  You either believe what the Bible says or you don’t.

 


KevinR - #70850

July 6th 2012

Roger, Francis,

The bible also clearly states that the animals CAME to Noah. He didn’t have to go out and hunt for them - that would have been impossible. Clearly, GOD chose the animals that HE wanted to survive and from what we know now, probably for the best genetic reasons.

Roger, I think your question regarding the dinosaurs is somewhat simplistic or misleading in the sense that there’s an underlying assumption that dinosaurs were HUGE and therefore could not possibly fit on the ark. What if they were still juveniles yet fully capable of reproduction?

Furthermore, you claim that they are not explicitly named. Well, we can certainly say the same about elephants, rhinos, hipos etc., yet we can calculate from the size of the ark that all those could have been accommodated with space to spare, provided .

The other thing to consider is that the current scientific definition of “species” is not the same thing as the biblical “kind”. That designation seems to be a much more inclusive term that encompasses multiple “species”. This would then imply that far fewer “species” would have been required to enter the ark. One can for example think of a wolf-kind that then evolves(yes, I’m actually using that dreaded word, but in it’s proper context!!!!) via speciation into different kinds of dogs or a similar other thing for cats or horses, etc.

As for the days - whether one reads it in English or Hebrew, the effect is the same as Francis said: it’s clearly spefified down to the tee.

One can indeed believe the bible for exactly what it says in a plain, simple, straightforward reading. There’s certainly no reason to try and twist the text to fit in the billions of years for any spontaneous origin of life plus molecules to mankinid evolution.

 

 

 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70852

July 6th 2012

Francis,

You asked a direct question and I gave you a direct answer. 

The question as I understood it was, “Is there any other reason besides Darwin’s Theory to investigate the age of the earth?”  I responded yes with several reasons to which you responded to one.

Let me elaborate on that one.  From the fossil evidence it is clear that dinosaurs, which were a whole class of species lived on the earth at one time.  That raises some obvious questions, 1) When did they live?  and 2) What happened to them? 

If the Bible answered these questions, then maybe science would not have to, but the Bible does not.  Thus in exploring these basic questions raised by the existence of this extinct class of species we find that 1) the earth is very old and 2) the dinosaurs lived and died out before humans came into existence. 

While these facts are not dependent on the existence of evolution per se, they do suggest that evolution is a real possibility.  They do seem to go against YEC. 


wesseldawn - #70979

July 9th 2012

Roger,

You brought up a good point. From the Genesis perspective (only a very quick overview),  there is the mention of both land and sea creatures! Science has unravelled some of the mysteries of the fossils but how some of them grew to such immense size is still a mystery. My theory is they grew to those sizes in the oceans and eventually crawled out onto dry land (the long necked species in particular), which most definitely points to evolution.

Man/ruddy/later Adam, was no doubt a product of evolution but don’t forget that Adam was in the garden for a very long time, he was not on the earth. We don’t know how long Adam was in the garden, it could have been eons of time for all we know. The earth and the animals in it would have continued on as it was.

It seems to me that the early chapters of Genesis speaks of two and very different places, the earth (Gen. 1:-7) and the garden of Eden/Paradise/Heaven (Gen. 1:8-3:17)

The dinosaurs would hardly be a concern if Adam was in the garden and Genesis doesn’t mention them because the Bible is the account of God’s interaction with human beings.

 


Eddie - #70855

July 6th 2012

Francis, you wrote:

“Assume a hypothetical: Evolution Theory does not exist; we have no discussions or disagreements or controversies regarding evolution because nobody believes in it.

“If that were the case, how much time and space would be devoted to discussions or disagreements or controversies about the age of the earth?” 

Granted, belief in biological evolution increases the motivation for such discussions.  But Roger is right:  even without biological evolution, the geological record—including fossils and other things—raises questions which are not easily handled by young-earth literalism.

However, the best reasons for not interpreting “days” (and much else in Genesis 1) literally are not scientific, but literary; the structure of Genesis 1 just cries out for a non-historical interpretation.  

Of course, Genesis 1 is “historical” in the broad sense that God did in fact create a world, where before there was nothing, and provided for its inhabitants, and gave man a special place in it.  These teachings should not be surrendered.  But as for the details, literary analysis strongly suggests that it would be foolish to plant our feet on them as news reports from the time of creation.  Genesis 1 is an artful presentation of religious truth.  We are meant to understand that artfulness, and not to mistake art for chronicle.  The insistence upon taking art for chronicle creates nothing but division and grief within American Christianity, and serves no Christian purpose, as nothing in the teaching of Christ requires exact knowledge of the details of how the world was made.


Gregory - #70863

July 6th 2012

Pleased to learn that Dr. John Lennox agreed to this contribution here at BioLogos. Though he has also supported ‘intelligent design’ in various ways, it is encouraging to see BioLogos opening up its pages to “charitable engagement of different perspectives.” ID people who are ‘culture warriors’ against theistic evolution and evolutionary creation (sometimes, it seems, as much as they hunt against naturalism and secularism) will likely not be pleased with Lennox’s work being displayed here. But the key point is that BioLogos is taking the initiative to enable constructive dialogue involving the things ‘we much agree upon’ by confronting ‘age of Earth’ directly and unashamedly.

I do wonder if we will be made aware of the “points he makes clear in later chapters,” where Lennox “disagrees with several specific BioLogos positions.” Even if not, it is important to know that as respected and thoughtful person as Lennox agrees with “the compatibility of an old earth with a faithful reading of Genesis.” Young-earth literalism, as Eddie calls it, is an error of exegesis, something BioLogos Foundation has positioned itself to correct and to heal the church and its faithful from.

It makes one wonder if those who support RTB, AIG and other YEC organisations realise how many intelligent, responsible and faithful Christians ‘gently, but firmly’ oppose their approach to Scripture and the ‘culture war’ they seem to have chosen to engage in by labeling themselves and defining their identities as ‘young earthers.’

On Lennox’s insightful words about metaphors and ‘understanding the Bible,’ it reminded me of a quotation by the so-called ‘sage of the wired age,’ Marshall McLuhan, a Catholic Christian (who of course also believed in an ‘old earth’), who wrote: “All words, in every language, are metaphors.” (1988)

McLuhan also wrote of metaphors: “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor?” which was a play-on-words from a Robert Browning poem: “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

I’d like to meet Lennox one day, a cross between a mathematician, philosopher and theologian, one engaged in science, philosophy and religion topics. A jovial, clever and faithful guy. One thing is certain; he doesn’t lack imagination. This is more than can be said of many, if not most YECs, who seemingly are ‘not careful enough with their use of literal.’


Francis - #70871

July 6th 2012

Eddie,

You wrote “The insistence upon taking art for chronicle creates nothing but division and grief within American Christianity, and serves no Christian purpose, as nothing in the teaching of Christ requires exact knowledge of the details of how the world was made.”

For about three thousand years, beginning with the writing of Genesis, no division or grief existed relative to the Judeo-Christian interpretation of the historicity and chronicle of Genesis. We saw little even in the way of academic speculations or discussions.

The division and grief began when, to borrow your wording, a dubious interpretive principle was brought to the Bible, and the Bible hammered into shape until it fit its “scientific” position.

 

I would agree to an extent with your statement that “nothing in the teaching of Christ requires exact knowledge of the details of how the world was made.”

However, St. Jerome said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!”

And I wonder why God would see to it that Scripture had an account of creation that was not only detailed, and not just sequential, but chronological (i.e. night+day = one day; 7 days). It causes me to ask questions. Here are just two:

1) If the Holy Spirit wanted to address creation, but prevent future confusion/division, why wouldn’t Moses have just brought it down to one verse, like “In the beginning, God created everything” or at most “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and everything in them, including mankind”? And leave it at that.

2) Why did the Holy Spirit move the author to name names (i.e. “Adam”), and then compound the “problem” later with a detailed genealogy going back from Jesus to that name  [Luke 3: 23-38]?

Sometimes I wonder.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70874

July 6th 2012

Francis,

I am afraid you do not understand how to read the Bible.  You expect the Bible to be written to meeet your needs and to answer your questions, rather than to try to understand the needs and the questions of the immediate audience of the book, ancient Israel. 

For your information the Hebrew language is not a scientific language, it is a poetic langauge.  It is not Greek which makes up words like omnipotent to express abstract ideas.  Hebrew uses images like God of Hosts to talk about God.

When God speaks directly to God’s people through the prophets God speaks in poetry, so that art or poetic speech is not a secondary aspect of the OT, it is a primary aspect.  Unfortunately in the King James Version one cannot readily tell the difference between prose and poetry, but look in most modern translations and you will see how much of the OT is poetry, esp. the prophetic writings. 

The translators of the KJV are given credit for shaping the English language with beautiful imagry.  While I expect they do deserve some credit I suspect it is the poetic imagry and structure of the Bible itself which deserves most of the credit.

Of course the NT is written in Greek, but it was written by Jews who in large part thought in the Hebrew style.  Still Paul and the other writers were able to convey the message of the gospel to the Greeks in a language and style that they could understand and directed them to the Hebrew Bible, so they could understand it even better.

Please Note: In the NT creation story John does pretty much what you suggested.  He just says, (John 1:1 NIV)

  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  He was with God in the beginning. 3  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

There is no real problem with Genesis if you just remember that besides being a holy book, it is the ancient chronicle of the Jewish people composed of traditional stories that God used to help us understand how we are to relate to God through a covenental relationship.  It is relational truth, which is faith, not propositional truth which is science and as such is often changing. 


wesseldawn - #70980

July 9th 2012

1) The whole Bible (which must include many apocryphal writings) is a gigantic puzzle: the words and whole sentences are themselves the pieces. If the puzzle was simple, how could we equate divine inspiration to it?

The fact that it’s complex reveals the amazing capacity and creative aspect to God’s nature.

2) Actually Adam was “in the immortal garden” - he named the creatures of Paradise, (which was an exalted position above the other creatures of Eden and made Lucifer angry). That had nothing whatever to do with the human genealogy record.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70984

July 9th 2012

wesseldawn,

I think that you are reading from the wrong book(s).

Sorry.


Francis - #70876

July 6th 2012

Roger,

You wrote “Francis, I am afraid you do not understand how to read the Bible.”

And here I thought, or at least had heard in many places, that all you needed to be a Christian and lead the Christian life were the Holy Spirit and the Bible; that apart from the Spirit’s guidance, the Bible alone is necessary for understanding and direction in all matters of faith and morals.

Well I know the Spirit is here. And I know I have a Bible I read.

Where am I going wrong? Do I need something else? Do I need you, Roger?

                                                                                                                        


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70877

July 6th 2012

Francis,

You are right.  All one really needs to know how to be a good Christian is the Bible and the Holy Spirit.  Of course the Bible and the Holy Spirit will lead one to resources beyond the Bible, but basically you are correct.

Now the problem as I see it is two fold. 

1) You are not reading the Bible for just faith and morality, you are reading it for science too.  The Bible is not a scientific textbook.  If it were, God the Father would have sent one instead of the Son.

2) I have found that the Holy Spirit allows me to understand the Bible from the inside, that is, from a relational spiritual perspective, rather than a propositional modern scientific perspective.    

If you want to go beyond faith and morals into science, philosophy, and theology, which is where you seem to want to go, you need to have some tools to help you understand the original languages, Greek and Hebrew.  God bless.   


GJDS - #70892

July 6th 2012

My view has been that it is not the Bible that is sanctioned by the physical sciences, but rather, the Bible was used to add authority to teachings mainly originating from Greco-Roman teachings on the earth and what was then regarded as science. The Biblical narrations became part of every-day discussions on such matters and eventually it was assumed that so called science was the same as the Bible. This ‘back-the-front’ approach has continued in modified form to this day and I think we are still caught up in this error. It is correct to say we should not, and cannot, use the Bible as a scientific text book, because these days science does not need an external authority for its claims. However, the attitude that the Bible needs to be made agreeable with other outlooks continues to this day. The OT was discussed extensively by the leading lights of the Jews over thousands of years.

The Bible is based on revelation; it also provides a good deal of information on the people chosen by God to bring His word to Israel. This information is also part of the Bible and thus must be used to understand what these people said, and perhaps how they stated their prophecies. The ultimate and complete revelation is Christ; His birth is the real beginning. John also makes it clear how everything came into being. These matters are very clear. Genesis is not a pre-educational part of the Bible, nor a different description of creation to these accounts.

I have searched the Bible for uses of ‘day’ and have some interesting examples. By and large it is used as we would for a 24 hr period. However the context generally sets the meaning. On being exact on when and how Genesis 1-2 means, I am reminded of a class that explained the Jewish calendar – extremely complicated and probably would give us an inaccurate summation of time for today. Examples of using ‘day’ as indicating a time or occurrence:

Deut 4:32  For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of?

Also Deut31:17

Day and years are used to indicate that God may not see time the way we do, as in:

2Pet 3:8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70911

July 7th 2012

GJDS,

Thank you for comments.

You are clearly right.  There has been much conflict and tension between the Greek and Hebrew understanding of Reality.  The Greeks prefer a more impersonal scientific view, while Hebrew thought is that God is definitely personally involved in the life of the universe. 

While Christianity brought a fruitful combination of these two views called Western dualism, this compromise is falling apart, because it is not sustained by our scientific understanding of the universe.  Nor is it sustained by our theological understanding of the universe.  That is why we must go beyond Western dualism to a Biblical relational triune understanding of Reality.

However please do not get caught up in what the writer meant by day in Genesis 1. The writer was clearly shaping the narrative to reflect the importance of the Jewish Sabbath.  This is a theological faith statement (and an important one), not a scientific statement.

It also must be noted that the key dispute between Jesus and the Jewish theologians was healing on the Sabbath.  Also the only Commandment that Christians do not explicitly keep in the Sabbath. 

The Sabbath is the Seal of Creation.  When Jews focus their worship on the Sabbath, they focus it on the goodness of the Creation.  Their understanding of Creation supports their legalistic understanding of the Law.  This may explain in part why many Jews excel in medicine and science, as well as their tradition of study of the Law.

Christians worship on the day of Resurrection.  This makes our focus to be on salvation through Jesus Christ, not the Creation by the Father.  Our concern with salvation is not enhanced by a legalistic OT understanding of Creation.     


Francis - #70919

July 7th 2012

Roger,

You wrote to GJDS: “However please do not get caught up in what the writer meant by day in Genesis 1. The writer was clearly shaping the narrative to reflect the importance of the Jewish Sabbath. This is a theological faith statement (and an important one), not a scientific statement.”

That’s remarkable. It seems to me that the Jews were observing, living by, a seven-day week BEFORE the Sabbath was ever established. You can’t tell people to do something on the seventh day of the week unless your listeners already have a seven–day week.

Where’d they get the idea for a seven-day week? 

 

Lastly, thank you for responding to me earlier. I’m greatly relieved to know I don’t need you.

Feel free to respond to other comments I may make in the future. However, due to constraints of time, space, and patience, I don’t foresee responding back to you again.

Good bye and God bless.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70923

July 7th 2012

Francis,

You are correct that you cannot tell people to observe the Sabbath on the seventh and final day of the week without there already being established a seven day week. 

I cannot say for sure how the 7 day week came into being.  My guess would be that it developed out of the lunar 28 day month, which clearly can be conveniently divided into 4 seven day weeks. 

We know that ancient calendars initially used lunar months. however there are 4 1/3 weeks in a month.  Also I understand the Romans and other ancients had a 10 month calendar, until Julius and Augustus Caeser added two months named for themselves, July and August, and it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that our modern calendar was established.

What is unique to the Jews from what I understand is the Sabbath, which was established by the Ten Commandments.  However the creational rationale of Gen 1 is not found in the other statement of the Decalogue found in Deuteronomy.  This rationale is a reminder that YHWH liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, which is harmony with the preface of the commandments.  It might also be noted that Islam does not have a Lord’s Day.

It is my understanding that Deuteronomy, meaning the Second Law, was the scroll of the law found in the Temple during the time of Josiah. (See 2 Kings 23)  After its authenticity had been certified by Huldah, the prophetess, it was read to the people and gave new impetus to Josiah’s reforms.   

Thus the genius of Genesis 1 is not the establishment of the 7 day week, but to set Jewish worship and the Sabbath within Creation narrative giving it meaning, which meaning was in part challenged by Jesus.

Francis, I appreciate the conversation.  I always learn from these discussions.  I hope you did too.  One other thing, the Holy Spirit works best when one drops the negative attitude.   

 


GJDS - #70928

July 7th 2012

Reply to #70911

Roger. While I agree the Sabbath is correctly stated as a significant identifier of Isreal, I think Genesis has more to it; by this I mean (a) as a negative statement, God does not get tired nor is ‘caught up’ in a specific time to rest, and (b) the sabbath rest is given to us, for our good, to ‘take time’ to understand how our day-to-day activities tire us, and our faith needs to be ‘refreshed’. The Sabbath was made for man; this is clearly understood. I was brought up to believe that Christians still keep the sabbath; we simply changed the day to distnguish us from the Jews who had already stipulated their day for their sabbath rest.

On Western dualism, I am afraid I cannot understand you; Christians did not participate in Hellenic philosophy, although those taught pagan philosophers sometimes became Christians. My comments have been that these teachings slowly insinuated into institutionalised structures in Europe, and were sanctioned by the authorities, until many became the norm. Western thinking has gone past this and Christianity need not be overly bothered by such things.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70953

July 8th 2012

GJDS,

You are real gem.  Thank you for your comment.

The discussion that I was having with Francis was over the 7 days of creation.  He says that this is a factual depiction of how God created the universe. 

What I was saying was that the Priestly Editor placed six stages of creation into six days leaving the seventh and ultimate day of creation as the Sabbath, the say of rest.  Thus the use of the term day here is not to be taken literally, even though it is depicted as a literal day, but a device to inform Jews as to the meaning and significance of the Sabbath.    

Thus the rationale for the Sabbath appears in Genesis and in the 4th Commandment as it appears in Exodus, but not as it appears in Deuteronomy. 

You said that it is clearly understood that the Sabbath was made for humans (and not the other way around.)  The question I pose is, “Who clearly understands this?”  You are quoting Jesus arguing with His opponents.  They clearly did not understand this and they are experts on the Torah.  This information and perspective did not come from Genesis, but from Jesus.

I heard sometime ago that some researchers had found that the debate between Jesus and His opponents over the Sabbath was real.  They found that the dominant Jewish school of thought of His day did insist on total rest during the Sabbath.  While I have no way of verifying this report, I expect it is true. 

Most Jews do not believe in a total rest Sabbath now, but some do and some maintain that when all Jews perform a perfect Sabbath, their Messiah will come, thus making the Sabbath essential to ultimate Salvation.    

The Jewish Sabbath worship focuses on the Creation and the Creator.  Christian worship on the Day of Resurrection focuses on Salvation and Jesus Christ, the Savior.  These are two very different perspectives which differentiate between Jews and Christians.  This does not make one or the other completely right or wrong, but it does make them distinct. 

It seems to me that Creationists by putting all their eggs in one basket, Genesis 7 days concept, which is Jewish in perspective and not really about Christian salvation, are risking the whole of Christian faith on a dubious, human perspective.     

     


GJDS - #70955

July 8th 2012

Roger,

I am afraid that you are ‘over-extending’ my comments. The Jewish tradition correctly observes the Sabbath according to the Law. The Jewish tradition(s) is/are what God has given to them, especially through Moses:

(a) Paul states in Romans just how highly he regards the Jewish tradition and is so devoted to Isreal he would willingly jepardise his salvation if he could show them Christ is our Saviour.

(b) my comment was on the importance given to discussions about days and other details, as Peter stated. I think that each person must come to their own understanding, and meaning, of God’s word. It is not about right and wrong in the scholastic sense, but more about our Faith.

The Sabbath is equally important because we are given the chance to be refreshed by considering God’s word, rather than becoming overly anxious about words and interpretations. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70967

July 9th 2012

GJDS,

Jesus did not call people to obey the Law or to believe some new doctrine.

Jesus called people to “Follow Me,” even if it meant abandoning many traditional theological ideas. 

Sadly while some in his day did follow Him, most did not and the Jews were left behind theologically.  Even today it seems to me that most people do not really follow Jesus, but follow some form of new legalism about Jesus. 

I am not here to judge anyone or any group, because we are all prone to this mistake, but to make it clear that it is a serious error to not follow Jesus.   

Today IMHO this is particularly important (although each era does have its own challenge) because Jesus Christ is calling us to follow Him beyond our old ways of understanding reality to a new understanding more in keeping of His gospel and life. 

As always it is not for everyone to be a leader, but for those who are willing to answer God’s call with faith.  


Francis - #70956

July 8th 2012

Some say Genesis’ seven days of creation were not real 24-hour days but merely a literary device to justify the Sabbath.

Why then didn’t Moses just establish the Sabbath right there in Genesis 2:3?

Furthermore, Moses explained to the people the “reasoning” for the establishment of the Sabbath commandment: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; FOR in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; THEREFORE the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” [Exodus 20:9-11]

So, Moses lied to the people? He told the people to work six then take a day off BECAUSE that’s what God did (while knowing in his heart that is NOT what God did)?

 

Observance of a seven-day week long preceded establishment of the Sabbath. So, how did the seven-day week come to be?

Some say from observing the cycles of the moon.

But where did the ordered cycles which command the moon come from? Those cycles, they’re almost like clockwork!

 

God seems to like clockwork.


GJDS - #70958

July 8th 2012

I do not think that Moses told untruths, nor that the six days are meant to be anything else but six days. My view has always been that God is not limited in any way including by time, nor by talk of days or events; limitations are placed in the Bible because God (and Moses) understand how limited we human beings are.

Genesis is not a device to tell lies - nor is John 1. I simply think that the Bible was written for our good and we need to understand it in this way. God made them male and female and they were not to be seperated, yet Moses spoke God’s law to Isreal and said what is contrary to this, and other things. Does this make Moses a lier? No - he understood how limited we human beings are.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70965

July 9th 2012

Francis,

It is Jesus Who said that God the Father and God the Son did not rest on the 7th day.

  John 5:16-17 (NIV) 

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

Furthermore in Deuteronomy Moses gave the fourth commandment thusly: 

 Deuteronomy 5:12 (NIV) “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.

13  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.

15  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.  

Which commandment is correct?

God might like clockwork, but God did not create humans to work like clocks. 


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