The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

GeoScriptures – Psalm 133:1 – Deep unity in Christ despite our disagreements

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!” – Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

There is only one church on Earth, and it is composed of those who, by God’s grace, have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We put different labels on ourselves, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Nondenominational, Roman Catholic, and so forth, but deep down there is a fundamental unity in the body of Christ. I have experienced this in interdenominational Bible studies and in one-on-one fellowship, and I hope you have as well.

Tragically, this unity is often obscured by the important doctrines and practices that divide us. One of these divisive points in the church today is the doctrine of creation. The Biblical teachings on creation are multifaceted, and include much more than the age of the universe and the origin of the diversity of life. It is fine that people have strong convictions regarding these things—just as I do—but many forget to be “speaking the truth in love.” As hard as I try, I at times also fail to speak the truth in love as I wrestle with these issues and interact with others.

Abusive speech comes from both sides in age-of-the-Earth debates. Many on the young-Earth side consider old-Earth Christians to be “compromisers” at best and not Christians at all at the worse. I have been accused many times of calling Jesus a liar because of my old-Earth views, and of being a tool of the devil.

Nastiness comes from the old-Earth Christian side as well, with some accusing young-Earth creationists of being imbeciles. Young-Earth creationists are not imbeciles; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. In one of the old-Earth online discussion groups I participate in, I find myself periodically defending Ken Ham against charges of heresy. I disagree with Ken Ham, both in terms of his young-Earth views and his tone (most of the time), but he is no heretic. He holds to all of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, just as I do, and insists that one does not have to be a young-Earth creationist in order to be a real Christian.

Being that I get a fair amount of abuse for being an old-Earth Christian, I would like to draw attention to two young-Earth creationists I have recently interacted with, both of whom have demonstrated the love and unity that we have in Christ. These men shine like stars in the darkness.

Jay Wile

The first of these is Jay Wile. Jay, who has a PhD in nuclear chemistry, is well-known in the Christian science education world (especially in the home school movement) as the original author of the grades 7-12 Apologia textbooks, such as Exploring Creation with Chemistry. More recently, Jay has written a series of elementary-level textbooks, organized historically rather than topically. Jay blogs about science and science education at Proslogion.

I have listed Jay’s blog here at The GeoChristian under “The Best of Young-Earth Creationism.” Jay is intelligent and articulate, and is able to write thoughtfully about a range of scientific and educational topics. Jay is also candid, willing to disagree with fellow young-Earth creationists at times (and drawing criticism for doing so).

Jay is also a nice guy. Jay and I have had dialogues on his blog over the past several years on topics ranging from the La Brea tar pits to radioisotope dating. Sometimes I win (at least I think so), and sometimes I don’t. We have also had some correspondence outside of social media. In February, Jay and I had the chance to visit face-to-face at the Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, where we were both speaking and promoting our textbooks. We had several opportunities to visit on the convention floor, and also to share a meal together. We talked a little bit about origins, but spent more time together in getting to know each other and talking about other topics. This is exactly how it should be between brothers in Christ who are on different sides of the age-of-the-Earth fence.

Mark Amenrud

Mark Amenrud is a Bible instructor at Montana Bible College, a school that is committed to young-Earth creationism. Mark is also a speaker for Montana Origins Research Effort, the state’s leading YEC organization. I first met Mark in the early 1980s, when he was the music director at Grace Bible Church in Bozeman while I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University. I remember him but he has no reason to remember me from that time.

I visited with Mark again at a creation conference in Bozeman in 2016. Mark recently invited me to speak in his “Science and Origins” class at Montana Bible College. I spoke last week for an hour and a half on the topic of “Why I am an old-Earth Christian.” The students were well-prepared and respectful. Even more, Mark was a gracious host, and I thoroughly enjoyed my interaction with both Mark and the students. Once again, this is exactly how it should be in the body of Christ.

I am thankful to God for brothers in Christ (and sisters in Christ, such as women in Mark’s class) who hold firmly to the Word of God, and who demonstrate the love and unity that are required of us in the body of Christ.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

I believe in the Reformation view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. A person is not saved, however, by believing this doctrine, but by faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:16 does not say, “whoever believes in the Reformation doctrine of justification” but “whoever believes in him.” One flip side of this doctrine is that not everyone who is a member of a church is automatically a Christian.

Another important, and divisive, facet of the doctrine of creation is environmental stewardship.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 ESV

I view any name-calling in origins debates to be the equivalent of calling someone “Raca.” See Matthew 5:22.

Ken Ham and I agree on the gospel.

April 13, 2017 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creationism, GeoScriptures, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , | Leave a comment

GeoScriptures — Psalm 90:4 — God’s days are not the same as our days

“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” — Psalm 90:4 (ESV)

Christians disagree with one another about the age of the Earth and the universe. Some Christians insist that the only possible way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis is that Earth is only about 6000 years old, and that any other interpretation is an accommodation with atheistic naturalism. Other Christians, equally sincere in their trust in the Bible as God’s Word, have studied Genesis and come to the conclusion that the Bible is not so clear on the age of the world, and that there is room for alternative understandings.

An important principle of Biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. For example, there are verses in 1 John that, if taken by themselves, make it sound like a Christian cannot sin (e.g. 1 John 3:9). Well, I still sin, so if all I knew was 1 John 3:9 I would be wallowing in despair. But if I look at other verses in 1 John, I am assured that God still loves me even though I still struggle with sin. I’m thinking of 1 John 2:1-2 in particular:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Reading 1 John 2:1-2 helps me to understand that 1 John 3:9 is not teaching that only the perfect will be saved.

I think it is fair to say that most Bible scholars interpret Psalm 90:4 to mean that God’s perspective on time is very different than humanity’s perspective on time. God is eternal, but we quickly return to dust. God knows the end from the beginning; we see the present dimly, and can only guess at the future. A thousand years is nothing to God, but is far beyond our personal experience.

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)

My desire in this brief essay is to demonstrate that Psalm 90:4 is relevant as we seek to understand what is meant by the word “day” in Genesis 1. Does Genesis 1 require six literal, consecutive 24-hour days of creation, or is there freedom to interpret the chapter in a somewhat less literal fashion? As we look at Psalm 90:4, I ask you to consider the following points:

1. The Hebrew word used for day in Psalm 90:4 is yom, the same word that is used for day in Genesis 1. In Psalm 90:4, yom is not the daily period of light between sunrise and sunset, nor is it a roughly 24-hour period from sunset to sunset. In Psalm 90:4, yom is clearly figurative.

2. Moses was the author of both Genesis 1 and Psalm 90. The title for Psalm 90 is, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This title is part of the Hebrew text, not an insertion by the English-language translators. It is clear that the word yom is used in a figurative sense in Psalm 90:4, so it is not unthinkable that Moses could write of figurative days, at least in some contexts.

3. The context of verse 4 is creation, so it is legitimate to at least consider whether or not the figurative use of yom in Psalm 90 is applicable to our understanding of the days of Genesis 1. The surrounding verses (Psalm 90:2-6) all speak of aspects of creation:

2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers. (ESV)

There are several references to creation: mountains being brought forth, the formation of the earth, man being created from dust, a flood, grass growing and withering.

4. The number 1000 is used in a general sense in Psalm 90; the purpose is to show that God’s view of time is not the same as man’s view of time. It would be just as accurate to say that 1,000,000 years–or even perhaps the entire history of the universe–is as a day or a watch in the night to God.

5. God was the only witness to the events of Genesis 1, and as we have seen in Psalm 90:4, God’s time is not the same as our time.

6. Put these all together, and we get the sense that Moses–and God–is not nearly as concerned with literal 24-hour days as most young-earth creationists are.

I am aware of young-earth creationist’s (YECs) objections to this use of Psalm 90:4, so I’ll mention a few of them.

  • YECs will say that the plain meaning of yom in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day, regardless of what Psalm 90:4 says. I will answer this objection by saying that yom is used to mean something other than a 24-hour day more than once in Genesis 1-2, and it is by no means plain that the other occurences aren’t meant to be figurative. The very first use of yom in Genesis 1 is in verse 5, where it says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Yom in this passage means “the period of time when it is light,” not a 24-hour day. Even the “There was evening and there was morning, the nth day” phrase that is repeated for each of the six days is something other than a 24-hour day, as the Jewish “day” ran from sunset to sunset, not sunset to morning, which is only part of a 24-hour day. In addition, Genesis 2:4 uses yom in a figurative sense, where it refers to the entire creation week.

Perhaps the clincher is that the seventh day is left open-ended; there is no repeat of the “evening and morning” phrase (see Genesis 2:1-3). Hebrews 4:3-11 seems to teach that the seventh day is ongoing, and that some people enter that rest, and others do not.

  • YECs also commonly object that Exodus 20:11 requires us to read the days in Genesis 1 as literal.

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

I will reply by saying that the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1 should drive our understanding of “day” in Exodus 20:11. If day is figurative in Genesis 1, then it can be figurative in Exodus 20:11. The reason I say that is because the seventh day of creation is a pattern not only for the weekly Sabbath, but also for the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. There is no need for the seventh day of creation in Genesis to be “literal” in order for it to provide a pattern for the weekly Sabbath in Exodus 20, as well as the Sabbath year and Year of Jubilee.

  • A third YEC objection is that Genesis is a historical document, and so the days should be taken literally. I will counter this by saying that Genesis 1 clearly has a structure to it that is not found in other Old Testament historical narrative passages. Genesis 1 is not poetry, such as is found in Psalms or Proverbs, but it is clearly not strictly historical narrative, such as what is found in much of Genesis through 2 Chronicles. This needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting Genesis 1, but in general, YECs simply lump the chapter in with other historical narrative passages.

This does not mean that Genesis 1 is non-historical; I believe it is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. But its distinctive style, combined with other considerations, causes me to think that there is more flexibility in the passage than YECs will allow for.

In this brief essay, I certainly have not “proven” that Genesis 1 allows for a universe that is older than 6000 years. But it is clear that God’s days are not necessarily the same as our days, and this needs to be taken into consideration as we interpret the creation account given in Genesis.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES:

All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

I stated that Moses was the author of Genesis 1. I see no significant reason to reject Moses as the primary compiler of the Pentateuch, including Genesis, though I do not rule out minor later editing, such as the updating of place names or the inclusion of the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34. Moses certainly may have worked with earlier sources, whether oral or written.

I have been a little sloppy for the sake of clarity. When I write “Genesis 1,” I really mean Genesis 1:1-2:3, which is the complete section. Genesis 1 gives the six days of creation, and Genesis 2:1-3 tells of the seventh day, the day of God’s rest.

2 Peter 3:8 is similar to Psalm 90:4 —

 “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

I chose to focus on Psalm 90:4 rather than 2 Peter 3:8 because Psalm 90 was written by Moses, the same person who compiled Genesis.

The “Report of the Creation Study Committee” (Presbyterian Church in America) gives a good summary of various viewpoints on creation: http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html

The various YEC ministries all have web pages about the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1:

http://www.icr.org/article/meaning-day-genesis/

https://answersingenesis.org/days-of-creation/24-hours-plain-as-day/

http://www.icr.org/article/meaning-day-genesis/

When they mention Psalm 90:4 or 2 Peter 3:8, they tend to brush these verses off as being irrelevant to Genesis 1.

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , | 22 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:2-3 — God’s rest and the age of the Earth

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. — Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)

How should we understand the six days of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3? Some insist that the only way to interpret the passage is what is called the “calendar day” view, in which God created the entire universe in six literal, consecutive days roughly 6,000 years ago. Others hold that the days can be understood in some other way, either as indefinite periods of time—the “day-age interpretation”—or as literary devices which are not meant to be taken literally, as in the “framework interpretation.”

In order to evaluate these interpretations, one must take a close look at what the passage actually says. Take, for example, the seventh day, in which God rested from his work of creation. People rest because they get tired. God, on the other hand, rested on the seventh day because he was done. I get worn out on a long hike in the mountains. God was able to create the entire universe without the slightest diminishment of his strength. As the prophet Isaiah wrote to God’s weary people:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Isaiah 40:28 (NIV)

It is clear that God’s rest on Day 7 was not like our rest. It was similar to our rest—such as Sabbath rest or nightly rest—in that God ceased from his work. But it was different from our rest in that there was no reason whatsoever why God needed to stop, other than the fact that he had accomplished what he set out to do. We humans get to the point where we must rest, even though our work is not yet complete. God’s rest, then, is similar (or analogous) to our rest, but not identical.

There are at least three of these analogies in the opening passage of Genesis:

  • God’s rest is similar to, but not identical to, our rest.
  • God’s work is similar to, but not identical to, our work.
  • God’s speech is similar to, but not identical to, our speech.

This insight leads to what is called the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis 1. Just as God’s rest is not the same as our rest, God’s work is not the same as our work, and God’s speech is not the same as our speech, it is quite reasonable to consider that perhaps

  • God’s day is similar to, but not identical to, our day.

More could be said in support of the analogical days interpretation, but for now I have simply presented the basics of this position. Please note that this is not “reading science into the Bible.” I have simply looked closely at the passage and observed that it is possible that God’s day might not be the same as an Earth day.

Grace and Peace

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Notes

It is not just Christian young-Earth creationists (YECs) who insist that the only way to interpret Genesis is “6000-year old Earth.” Atheists and skeptics usually agree with the YECs on this one. Unfortunately, the bad apologetics of young-Earth creationism makes it easier for these skeptics to reject Christianity.

A good summary of various interpretations of Genesis can be found in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which holds firmly to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

An important advocate of the analogical days interpretation is C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary. His books include Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary.

The analogical days interpretation is age-neutral. The Earth could be 6000 years old, it could be billions of years old. In this viewpoint, Genesis simply is not about the age of the Earth.

The analogical days interpretation is also not necessarily “competition” for the other interpretations I mentioned. For example, I think the analogical interpretation flows nicely out of the text of Genesis, while the day-age interpretation does not. That does not mean that the day-age interpretation is incorrect; it just may be that the analogical days interpretation gives a solid biblical foundation which is complementary to the scientific insights of the day-age interpretation.

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism | | 1 Comment

GeoScriptures — Genesis 6-9 — Reading the account of Noah’s (local) flood

Some scholars within Christianity insist that the only way to understand the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9 is that it describes a worldwide flood, which at its climax covered even the highest mountains on the planet. They point to apparently universal statements in the passage, such as where it says that the flood covered all the earth, or that the mountains themselves were covered by the floodwaters.

But is that what the Bible really says to us about the extent of Noah’s flood?

The Hebrew text of Genesis is considerably more ambiguous than are our English translations, as the vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew is not as precise as that of modern English. In English, for example, we distinguish between “hill” and “mountain,” whereas in Hebrew the same word can mean either hill or mountain. The translator has to make a decision how to translate the word, often based on the context. Sometimes the context makes it clear how to translate an ambiguous term; in other cases it is not so obvious.

There are three ambiguous words in the flood story that I would like to highlight.

  • The word traditionally translated as “earth” could be just as legitimately translated as “land.”
  • The word traditionally translated as “mountains” could be just as legitimately translated as “hills.”
  • The word traditionally translated as “heavens” could be just as legitimately translated as “sky.”

Making perfectly valid substitutions, Genesis 6:17 changes from

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (NIV)

to

I am going to bring floodwaters on the land to destroy all life under the sky, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on the land will perish.

When reading the text with these modifications, the account of Noah’s flood sounds considerably less like a global cataclysm, and more like a flood that was vast from Noah’s perspective, but still possibly of a limited geographic extent.

I encourage you to read the passage with these substitutions in mind. In the parallel translations below, I have highlighted the changes, and made one other change based on the NIV footnote to 7:20. The NIV text of 7:20 reads

The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.

The NIV footnote says that the verse could also be translated as

The waters rose more than fifteen cubits, and the mountains were covered. [And one could substitute “hills” for “mountains”]

The first translation makes it sound like the highest mountain on Earth was covered by at least 15 cubits (about the draft of the Ark), whereas the second translation says that the water was at least 15 cubits deep. Either translation works fine in the context of a local flood; all it is saying is that the Ark did not scrape bottom during the flood.

Here is the alternative translation of the flood account in Genesis, with the modified translation on the left, and the unmodified NIV to the right.

New International Version, with valid translation substitutions in bold

6:1 When human beings began to increase in number on the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

4 The Nephilim were on the land in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the land, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the land, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the land the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

9 This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the land was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the land had become, for all the people on the land had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the land is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the land. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the land to destroy all life under the sky, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on the land will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

7:1 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the land. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the land every living creature I have made.”

5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the land. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the land.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. 12 And rain fell on the land forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the land, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the land. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the land, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the land, and all the high hills under the entire sky were covered. 20 The waters rose more than fifteen cubits, and the hills were covered. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the land, 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 land was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the land. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the land for a hundred and fifty days.

8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the land, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the sky had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the land. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the hills of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the hills became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the land. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the land; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the land. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the land. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the land was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the land and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the land endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the land. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the land, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the land and increase upon it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on the land. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the land.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the land. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the land and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the land.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the land.”

New International Version (2011), without modifications

6:1 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

9 This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

7:1 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land 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; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds 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.

8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Conclusion: Genesis 6-9 is ambiguous as to whether the flood covered all of the Earth, or was limited to a smaller area.

Grace and peace

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Notes

The 2011 NIV text for Genesis 6:1 to 9:17 is from BibleGateway.com.

The Hebrew word that can be translated either as “earth” or “land” is ‘erets. According to Unger and White, ” ‘Erets does not only denote the entire terrestrial planet, but is also used of some of the earth’s component parts. English words like land, country, ground, and soil, transfer its meaning to our language. Quite frequently, it refers to an area occupied by a nation or tribe.” (from Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament entry for “Earth”)

The Hebrew word that can be translated either as “heavens” or “sky” is shamayim. Unger and White (in their entry for “Heavens”) state that “shamayim is the usual Hebrew word for the ‘sky’ and the ‘realm of the sky.’ This realm is where birds fly.” They go on to list other meanings of shamayim, such as the higher atmosphere where rain and snow come from, the realm of the sun, moon, and stars; and the dwelling place of God. The combination “heavens and the earth” in Genesis 1:1 refers to the entirety of creation.

The Hebrew word that can be translated either as “mountains” or “hills” is har. Henry Morris, in The Genesis Record (p. 200) states that ” ‘hills’ and ‘mountains’ are the same word in the original.”

There is more to a Biblical case for a local flood that just these minor translation changes.

I have written previously about making these modifications to the Flood passage of Genesis: The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic.

My alternative translation given here is only a thought-provoker. I am not saying that each and every instance of ‘erets in the passage should be translated as “land” rather than “earth,” and so forth.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | , | 19 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” — Genesis 1:20-22 NIV 1984

Today (April 22nd) is Earth Day. For a variety of reasons, I believe that Christianity offers both the best foundation for proper care of the world’s ecosystems and the only hope for the future of our planet. Those are topics for another time; for now, I want to draw our attention to three things from this passage in Genesis.

The first of these is the inherent goodness of the creation. Here in the opening chapter of the Bible, we see God creating the universe and preparing the Earth—land, sea, and sky—for the vast variety of life that would soon inhabit it. He then commanded the Earth to bring forth vegetation, sea life, birds, and land animals. With all of this in place, God pronounced that the creation was “good.” Being good, the creation is not something to escape from, nor is it something that is somehow less important than the “spiritual.” The biblical teaching is that the creation—rocks, water, plants, and animals—has inherent value, apart from its usefulness to humanity.

The second thing we can learn from this passage is that the living world was created to be fruitful. On the fifth day, starting with Genesis 1:20, God created the sea life and birds, and the earth “teemed” with them. To teem is  “to become filled to overflowing,” to “abound,” and “to be present in large quantity.” When reading this, I think of the abundance of bison that populated the American Great Plains before the 1800s, or the diversity of life that is found in tropical rainforests. We sometimes forget that it wasn’t just to humans that God issued the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” He also gave this command to sea life and birds, and it is later stated (Gen 8:17) that God created the land animals to be fruitful and increase in number as well.

Thirdly, the goodness and teemingness of creation should guide how we think about our responsibility towards nature. God placed Adam and Eve over the creation to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air…” (v. 26). It has been pointed out that this dominion is not meant to be domination, but rather a stewardship or vice-regency over the creation, with the responsibility to tend it as God’s representatives on Earth. If the creation has inherent goodness apart from the resources it supplies to us, and if God created the living world to be abundant and fruitful, then it follows that an important part of our responsibility is to act in such a way as to preserve, protect, and enhance that fruitfulness. This means that the world is not here just for us. It is also here for sea urchins, red-winged blackbirds, polar bears, and giant Palouse earthworms. I believe that the thriving of humans and the thriving of the rest of the living world must go hand in hand. Our challenge is to figure out how to make this work.

Grace and Peace

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Notes

For some reasons why Christianity offers the best foundation for environmentalism, see my summaries of For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. These books have shaped how I think about our responsibility towards the creation.

The definitions of “teem” are from http://www.merriam-webster.com/. “Teemingness” is indeed a word.

In saying that the material world is just as important in Christianity as the spiritual, I am saying that all of our good works—acts of love to our neighbors—are done in the physical realm. Even much of what we consider to be “spiritual,” has physical components: prayer, communion, baptism, evangelism. At times Christians have had an unbiblical picture of a future life of escaping from the material world and floating in the clouds, but the biblical affirmation of the goodness of creation is really one of the strengths of Christianity. In many Eastern philosophies and religions, the material is an illusion or something to escape from. An example of this is the moksha or nirvana of Indian religions. In atheistic naturalism there is no absolute reason outside of ourselves to value plants and animals. In other words, there is no reason to judge Eden as a better place than Coruscant, the completely urbanized capital of the Star Wars galaxy. Ultimately, we can choose which type of world—Eden or Coruscant—that we think is best for our purposes. I am not saying that Buddhists and atheists do not care about the creation; many of them do care very much, and are active in what I would call creation care. It is just that they do not have an adequate philosophical foundation for doing so.

I first thought seriously about the teeming of the living world in Genesis 1 while reading The Creation by biologist E.O. Wilson. Wilson is not a Christian, but the book is written to Christians as “an appeal to save life on Earth.”

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Christianity, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, GeoScriptures, Nature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

GeoScriptures — 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 — Wisdom and folly

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. — 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 (ESV)

As I get older, I hope I am getting wiser. Two things I have learned is that I probably don’t know as much as I think I know, and there are probably things that I think I know with confidence that I am wrong about. Part of wisdom is understanding and acknowledging that we are often wrong.

I have no doubt that I am wrong about some of the doctrines I hold as an Evangelical Christian. For me to believe that I am right about everything and that everyone else is in error would be extreme arrogance. The challenge is that I don’t know where I am wrong, though I am sure some of my readers have their ideas of where I am wrong. I am also sure that I am wrong about some things I write about the geosciences. Again, I don’t know what those things are.

If I am wrong about a doctrine, it is more likely to be a doctrine on the edges of Christianity—such as what I think about the new Heaven and new Earth—rather than in the core doctrines I hold to, which are in line with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Likewise, if I am wrong about certain things in the geosciences, it is likely to be on secondary issues, such as whether the sandstone layers near my house were formed as part of a barrier island along an ancient shoreline or if they were formed slightly offshore and completely submerged. I am less likely to be wrong about basic geological ideas such as the fact that the shale beneath the sandstone had to have been deposited first, which is an understanding based on the law of superposition.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is primarily addressing the fact that both Jews and Gentiles were rejecting Christianity as foolish because of what we say about Christ: God in the flesh, executed on a cross, risen from the dead.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. — 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ESV)

Then as now, there were people who scoffed at the idea that God would or could become human, that God’s messiah would be executed, or that a man who had been executed and buried could be resurrected from the dead. In all of these things, I am glad to be included with what the world considers foolish. Paul is encouraging the Corinthian Christians to stand firm when being accused of foolishness, because what the world sees as foolishness is really an expression of God’s wisdom, and the philosophers and skeptics will, in the end, be exposed as the real fools.

However, Paul is not defending ignorance or poor reasoning. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, he writes, “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (14:20 NIV). Christians, as new creations, growing in the likeness of Christ, should have strong minds. Not all Christians will be intellectual giants, but throughout history the church has been blessed with some great thinkers, including the apostle Paul.

Sometimes Christians say foolish things in defense of what they perceive to be Biblical truth (I include myself in this statement). I understand that there is a difference between being wrong and being foolish. When some Christians first advocated that the moon could not be billions of years old because if it were it would be covered by a think layer of meteorite dust, they may have been guilty of simply being wrong. When Christians continue to use the moon dust argument even when most young-Earth creationist scientists say it is bogus is quite simply foolishness.

As I have said before, let it be the foolishness of Christ—his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection—that the world rejects, not our own foolishness.

Grace and Peace

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Notes

Most young-Earth creationists acknowledge the validity of the law of superposition. There are exceptions.

A history of the young-Earth creationist argument on moon dust can be found at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/hovind/howgood-yea.html (Proof #2).

Answers in Genesis includes the moon dust argument on its Arguments We Don’t Use page, under the heading of “Arguments that should never be used.” That doesn’t stop a number of YEC teachers from continuing to use it.

I know one YEC organization that (as of 2011 when they presented at my church) still uses the “human and dinosaur footprints together” argument (Paluxy River tracks), even though this argument was abandoned by the Institute for Creation Research in 1986, and is also on AiG’s Arguments We Don’t Use page.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | GeoScriptures | , | Leave a comment

GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism

And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Genesis 3:17-18 (ESV)

Suppose I were to tell you, “Sometimes it rains cats and dogs in St. Louis.” How would you interpret my statement? If you didn’t know English idioms very well, you might be quite confused by what I said, or come to the conclusion that I was—intentionally or unintentionally—speaking nonsense. Because you know it does not really ever rain cats and dogs, you probably would not take me as actually believing that cats and dogs fall from the sky.

Now suppose that the biblical account of Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-9) contained a verse that said, “And Noah looked out of the window of the ark and saw that it was raining cats and dogs.” How would we interpret this statement? The most natural way to interpret it would be to assume there was some sort of idiom or metaphor in use, and to interpret it as “it was raining very hard.” Unfortunately, we would not be able to look up “raining cats and dogs”  in the 1400 BC edition of Hebrew Idioms for Dummies, so we might have to do some educated guesswork.

On the other hand, if we had little stomach for idioms or other literary devices as we read the Old Testament, we might come to the conclusion that the deluge was so cataclysmic that, in this instance, cats and dogs must have been sucked up from the watery surface by strong updrafts, and then hurled down upon the deep, as witnessed by Noah. This would be a reading that goes far beyond seeking the literal, or intended, meaning of the passage. This would be an example of what some call hyperliteralism; a reading of the text that allows for no figures of speech whatsoever.

Now Genesis does not contain the phrase “raining cats and dogs,” but it does contain examples of non-literal writing. Take for example the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” in Genesis 3:18. This is part of the curse God pronounced on the ground after Adam and Eve sinned. After humanity’s fall into sin, God pronounced a curse on the serpent, Satan; and spoke words of discipline and judgement (and promise) to Adam and Eve. Rather than experiencing the blessings of Eden, Eve would experience, among other things, pain in childbirth, and Adam would experience “thorns and thistles.”

What is the meaning of the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you?” One common interpretation of this passage is that it teaches that there were no thorns or thistles on the Earth until God made this pronouncement. In Eden, so the interpretation goes, there could not possibly have been things like thorns and thistles; not only do they cause pain and draw blood when they prick our skin, they are specifically mentioned as part of the curse on the ground here in Genesis 3. In other words, thorns and thistles did not exist until they became part of God’s curse on the ground.

Following this line of reasoning further, we have to consider the fact that the fossil record contains plants that have thorns and thistles. If one holds to the “literal” interpretation, then it is clear that these plant fossils could only have formed after Adam sinned. Therefore, the fossil record—and by correlation this would mean just about any rock of Phanerozoic (Cambrian and more recent) age—had to have formed after Adam. This is one of the supposed Biblical foundations for young-Earth creationist “flood geology.”

But is this the best way to understand God’s “thorns and thistles” curse? A better interpretation is that there is a figurative aspect to “thorns and thistles.” If so, the young-Earth interpretation is an example of hyperliteralism, an over-reading of the text caused by focusing on the literal words on the page rather than the main thrust of the section. A broader view of the text is that God was removing his blessing on mankind’s work. The intention at creation was that Adam and his descendants would be fruitful; not just in reproduction, but in their stewardship and dominion over the rest of creation. There would be shalom between man and his Creator, within each person, between man and wife, between individuals, and between humans and nature. This was all frustrated by Adam’s rebellion, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Thorns and thistles may have existed before, but with the advent of sin they could now have dominion over humanity rather than humanity having dominion over them. All of our work is now frustrated to one degree or another by figurative thorns and thistles, whether it be the weeds in our garden, the broken relationships with coworkers and clients, mistakes we make in our work, or bugs in the latest software on our computers.

Genesis 3:18 is not about thorns and thistles any more than Genesis 3:14-15 is about how snakes lost their legs. Genesis 3:18 is about how our work in general is frustrated because of sin, and Genesis 3:14-15 is about the humiliation of Satan, grovelling in the dust just as defeated enemies of some Mesopotamian ruler would be forced to do. It is much better, in terms of the literary imagery of the passage, to take thorns and thistles as having a broader meaning in terms of our work and relationships rather than narrowing the meaning down to the appearance of weeds in Adam’s garden.

The undoing of the curse on our work is found in the work of Christ, who bore a crown of thorns as he suffered on our behalf. We live in confident hope that all of creation will one day come under the healing rule of Christ, and that our broken bodies will be resurrected whole. In the new (or renewed) Earth there will be gardens, and I won’t be at all surprised if we find roses growing there.

Grace and Peace

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Notes:

The Phrase Finder has an article about the origin of “raining cats and dogs.”

The ESV Study Bible comments:

Gen. 3:17–19 God’s punishment of the man involves his relationship with the very ground from which he was formed (see note on 2:5–7). Because he has eaten that which was prohibited to him, he will have to struggle to eat in the future. Given the abundance of food that God provided in the garden, this judgment reflects God’s disfavor. Adam will no longer enjoy the garden’s abundance but will have to work the ground from which he was taken (3:23; see note on 2:8–9). The punishment is not work itself (cf. 2:15), but rather the hardship and frustration (i.e., “pain,” itstsabon; cf. 3:16) that will accompany the man’s labor. To say that the ground is cursed (Hb. ’arar, v. 17) and will bring forth thorns and thistles (v. 18) indicates that the abundant productivity that was seen in Eden will no longer be the case. Underlying this judgment is a disruption of the harmonious relationship that originally existed between humans and nature.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Genesis (p. 72 of 1967 printing), writes,

Thorns… and thistles are eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching; in the Old Testament they mark the scenes of man’s self-defeat and God’s judgment, e.g. in the sluggard’s field (Pr. 24:31) and the ruined city (Is. 34:13). They need not be envisaged here as newly created, but as henceforth a perennial threat (as the unconquered Canaanites would be to Israel, Nu. 33:55); for man in his own disorder would never now ‘subdue’ the earth.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Geology, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 7:19 — “All the earth” doesn’t always mean “all the earth”

And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. — Genesis 7:19 (ESV)

Many Christians point to the universal nature of some verses in the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9 to prove that the flood must have been global in extent. For instance, Genesis 6:13 states,

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

We also read,

The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

How do old-Earth Christians who hold to a local (rather than global) flood interpret these passages? The answer is by using standard tools of hermeneutics (interpretation), including examining what the text does and does not say, and by comparing Scripture to Scripture. I would like to focus right now on the “let Scripture interpret Scripture” aspect of hermeneutics.

There are a number of passages in the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament) where “all the earth” does not mean “all the earth.” Here are the main ones:

  • Genesis 41:57Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. — In this case, does “all the earth” mean “all the earth,” or does it mean a widespread area in the Eastern Mediterranean? Most Bible scholars take this as a figure of speech, not as a literal statement. People came from far away, such as from Canaan, but not necessarily from Spain. I was having a conversation with someone about this passage a few months ago, and I asked him if he believed that people from every nation, from the Eskimos to the Zulus, showed up to buy grain from Joseph. He answered that he believed it was a literal “all the earth,” but that mankind had not yet dispersed very far following the Tower of Babel.
  • Deuteronomy 2:25 — This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.’ — Did the Incas and Chinese hear reports about the Exodus, or again, is “the peoples who are under the whole heaven” to be taken in some sense figuratively?
  • 1 Kings 18:10 — There is no nation or kingdom where my lord [King Ahab] has not sent to seek you. — Did Ahab send emissaries to Japan and Zimbabwe to look for Elijah? If I were a hyper-literalist, I would have to say that he did.
  • 2 Chronicles 9:23 — And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. — Do I have to affirm that leaders of the Australian Aborigines showed up in Jerusalem to listen to Solomon?
  • Jeremiah 27:7 — All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson. — God said that “all the nations” shall serve Nebuchadnezzar. Does this mean that there is some gap in our historical knowledge; a period of time when Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire stretched from Los Angeles to London to Tokyo, and from Murmansk to the Cape of Good Hope? Or was God using a figure of speech?
  • Dan 4:22It is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. — As in Jer 27:7, does the Bible teach that Nebuchadnezzar’s empire covered the entire planet? (see also Daniel 5:19).
  • Zephaniah 1:2 — “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. (also see v. 18) — Is this teaching the destruction of the entire Earth, or a more limited judgement on unfaithful Israel and the surrounding nations?
  • Similar “universal” passages can be found in the New Testament — Luke 2:1 (all the world to be registered), John 12:19 (the Pharisees were concerned that the whole world was going to Jesus), Acts 2:5 (Jews were present at Pentecost from every nation under heaven), Colossians 1:23 (the gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven).

In each case a more natural reading of the text is something other than “all the Earth.” Only if we bring a rigid, overly-literalistic hermeneutic to the passages do we end up with things like Ahab’s servants trekking through the Himalayas looking for Elijah.

In many ways, Hebrew functions like other languages. It is not a Vulcan-like tongue where everything is mechanical and logical, lacking in word pictures or hyperbole.  In English, if we say “everyone is doing it,” we don’t literally mean “everyone,” unless we are talking about something like breathing. So if I say, “everyone in America likes McDonalds,” most people would not take that to mean “everyone in America likes McDonalds.” The same is true in the foreign language I know best, Romanian. The phrase “toată lumea” literally means “all the world,” which translates into English as “everyone.” If I were to say toată lumea likes going to the beach, I would literally be saying that the whole world likes going to the beach, but I would really mean that many or most people like going to the beach, or most people I know like going to the beach.

I hope that I have demonstrated that “all the Earth” usually does not mean “all the Earth” in the Old Testament. The question then becomes: can we apply this knowledge (letting Scripture interpret Scripture) to the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9? Are the universal phrases in the passage to be taken in a “literalistic” sense, or is there room for reading these as figures of speech?  I believe I can show that much of the universal imagery of Genesis 6-9 is indeed hyperbolic, and that the passage can be read naturally as a very large, but still limited flood that appeared universal from Noah’s perspective in the middle of it all. I will save that discussion for another time.

Grace and Peace.

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | , , | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV 1984)

According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. He commanded that they tend the Earth, and that they be fruitful and multiply. They walked in fellowship with God as they worked; it was a paradise, but not an idle paradise. He provided the tree of life that they might live forever, but forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

In Genesis 3, as we  know, Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The correct answer, of course, is that this was a bad thing. That doesn’t stop some from twisting the story; consider the following from paleontologist L. Beverly Halstead:

Here [in Genesis] we have man being given an instruction by the supreme Authority, and he was expected to accept this quite uncritically—he was not expected to question it, he was certainly not expected to defy it, he was expected to obey it. Let us consider what this means. Here is a situation where you are placed in an environment where you have everything, all you must not do is think.

Samuel Butler in the last century wrote “The Kingdom of Heaven is the being like a good dog.”

A good dog does what he is told, gets a pat on the head, and that is all. This is a prospect that no real human being should ever stand for. But we are very fortunate in this story—we have the hero of this entire episode, the serpent, and he gave very good advice (Gen 3:5-7)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened.

That, to my mind, is the most inspiring passage in this entire volume.

That was the original sin, the defiance of the Lord God was original sin, and this sin is the one which every scientist worthy of the name is dedicated to uphold.

(quote from Halstead, L. Beverly, “Evolution—The Fossils Say Yes!”, in Montagu, Ashley (ed.), 1984, Science and Creationism, pp. 241-242. )

Halstead simply distorted the passage for his own purposes. God did not forbid them from eating fruit from a “tree of knowledge,” as if knowledge were bad, but from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“Knowledge” can mean knowing about something, such as knowing about European history or invertebrate paleontology. I think that is what Halstead had in mind; that somehow God wanted Adam and Eve to live in some sort of ignorant bliss. The passage, however, implies that God wanted Adam and Eve to have a kind of scientific knowledge about their world; how could they have dominion over the garden as God’s representatives on Earth if they were clueless about caring for the Earth?

There is another kind of knowledge that is experiential rather than just the intellectual knowledge inherent in science. We see this in Genesis 4:1 — “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Adam did not just know about Eve as an intellectual exercise, but had a deep, intimate, emotional knowledge of her expressed in sexual intercourse.

This is the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve would gain through eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not just gain an intellectual understanding  about the world, or a textbook knowledge about ethics, but they knew good and evil, and this was a horrible thing to gain intimate knowledge of.

Think of what they “gained” through their submission to Satan, or as Halstead put it, the “hero of this entire episode, the serpent.” Here is what we have as the fruit of disobedience:

  • A broken relationship with God.
  • Broken relationships with one another.
  • A broken relationship with the creation.
  • Frustration in work.
  • Pain in childbirth.
  • Shame.
  • Physical death.
  • Decaying bodies.
  • Disease.
  • Murder.
  • Poverty.
  • Oppression.
  • War.
  • Famine.
  • Hatred.
  • Abuse.
  • Rape.
  • Exploitation.

All because of one piece of fruit. Was it worth it?

Grace and Peace

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, Ethics, GeoScriptures | , , , , , | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Hebrews 11:1 — Christian faith is not blind faith

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. — Hebrews 11:1 (NIV 1984)

A couple weeks ago, I was on a flight that landed in dense fog in Salt Lake City. I had a window seat, and the first thing I could see on the ground as the plane approached the airport was the asphalt a few seconds before the wheels touched the runway. The visibility along the surface was sufficient to keep the runway open—commercial pilots cannot land completely by instruments; they must be able to see a certain distance ahead on the runway—but the clouds were considerably more dense a short distance above the ground as the plane approached the airport.

The pilot was flying by faith. He or she had confidence in the various instruments that guided the plane through the dense clouds. This is the most common way we use the word “faith” in our day to day conversations. When we say we have faith in something or someone, we almost always mean something like “trust” or “confidence,” and almost never mean “blind faith,” which would be faith with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

Faith is only as good as the object in which one puts their faith. Commercial passenger airplanes are extraordinarily reliable. If they had a success rate of 99% almost no one would fly on them (and having flown a few hundred times I would likely have died in a plane crash quite a while ago). According to planecrashinfo.com, your chances of dying in a plane crash on a flight of the thirty safest airlines is about 1 in 29 million! To board an airplane is an act of faith, but it certainly is not an act of blind faith.

Christian faith is this “confidence” sort of faith. Theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer put it this way in his book He is There and He is not Silent (Appendix B):

One must analyze the word faith and see that it can mean two completely opposite things.

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock, and suddenly the fog shuts down. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide, “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it until the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said, “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning.”

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and if he was not my enemy… I would ask him what to me would be the adequate and sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the other use of the word. As a matter of fact, if one of these is called faith, the other should not be designated by the same word. The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because He is not silent, and I am invited to ask the adequate and sufficient questions, not only in regard to details, but also in regard to the existence of the universe and its complexity and in regard to the existence of man.

Christian faith is an informed step into the fog. It is not based on a rational or logical line of thought, but it is rational. It is firmly grounded in the creation and history; it can give better answers for why there is a universe and why it is the way it is, and what the meaning of history is, and why we humans are the way we are, than the alternatives such as atheism or pantheism, or even other non-Christian theistic religions such as Islam.

One must be careful to note that Christian faith is not something we stir up within ourselves. I cannot claim that I came to God because, genius that I am, I figured it all out. Michael Patton describes Biblical faith as “Warranted faith brought about by the Holy Spirit.”

The faith that God calls on us to have is neither blind nor irrational. And while we believe our faith is the most rational choice that we can make given the evidence, rational alone is not enough. The Bible says that without outside intervention, we are antagonistic to spiritual truths. If we rely on naked intellect or personal effort alone, even as Christians, we will never truly be able to rest in God. The most important component to our faith has yet to be revealed. What is this element? It is the power of the Holy Spirit. The third member of the Trinity must ignite our faith. Yes, he uses rationale , inquiry, evidences, personal effort, and our minds to do so. But these things alone can only get us so far. In order to have true faith, the power of the Holy Spirit must move within us, releasing us from the bondage of our will.

Also note that it was not the strength of my faith that enabled the airplane I was on to get me from Billings, Montana, to Salt Lake City. I could have had a very weak faith in airplanes, and it still would have done the job. It was the reliability of the airplane and its crew and maintenance personnel that enabled me to make it to Utah alive. Likewise, my faith in God and his Word is not perfect. But mustard seed sized faith in God is sufficient to help me through the fog of life, and to cling to the Creator of the universe who is willing and able to bring me safely to the final landing.

Grace and Peace

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, GeoScriptures | , , | Leave a comment

GeoScriptures – Psalm 77:16-18 – Deadly beauty and the glory of God

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Psalm 77:16-18 (NIV 1984)

I flew over the Wasatch Mountains of Utah this morning, and the sight was spectacular. The sun was just about to rise, and the mountains had a considerable amount of fresh snow on their pristine slopes. The ruggedness of the mountains was heightened by the smooth, undulating texture of the fog-filled valleys. The crest of the range was knife-sharp, with steep snow drifts looming over chutes that had been carved through the forested slopes by numerous avalanches in a multitude of previous winters.

As I praised God for the beauty of his creation—I love mountains and I love snow—I realized that the countryside passing quickly beneath me was a dangerous place. At any time, an avalanche could be triggered—perhaps by wind, by settling of snow caused by temperatures changes, or by a cross-country skier traversing the slopes beneath the cornices.

It is not a contradiction to say that creation can be a dangerous place, and to say that it is good. In the Scriptures, God is not just glorified by gentle creations, such as puppies and daffodils. Certainly these things are good, but they are not used in imagery describing the majesty and power of the Almighty. Instead, as in Psalm 77, God’s glory is displayed in things that are frightening, such as thunder, lightning, wind, and earthquakes. I would add to the Biblical list marvels such as volcanoes, hurricanes, black holes, and supernovas.

Some assume that God’s original creation, being described as “very good,” did not contain thunderstorms, earthquakes, or gamma ray bursts. I see absolutely no Biblical reason for believing this, and plenty of Biblical passages which use the dangerous parts of creation to point us to the even more awesome powers of the Creator. God is like how Aslan is described in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Grace and Peace

February 4, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God” vs Carl Sagan

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.

Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?

The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.

I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.

Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.

Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”

In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.

On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Grace and Peace

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy, Atheism, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution | , | 10 Comments

GeoScriptures — John 1:1,14 — God in a dot

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. — John 1:1,14 (NIV 1984)

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary claims of the Christian faith is not that God created the universe (many philosophers believe there must be something outside of the universe that created the universe), or that God can work miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea, but that Jesus Christ (the Word of John chapter one) was God in the flesh. In verse one, it states that “the Word was God,” and in verse fourteen John writes that “The Word became flesh.”

This means that the God who created the entire universe (with all of its laws, energy, and matter), who knows both the position and momentum of each subatomic particle in the universe, and without whom the universe would cease to exist in less than a nanosecond—this God of “all there is or was or ever will be,” became a human being. Not only did God become fully human (while retaining full deity), he became a zygote, a fertilized ovum, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Much of this is mysterious to us. How can someone be fully God and fully human? How can God, as the second person of the Trinity, be compressed into a single human cell? We don’t fully know, but we can be filled with wonder.

This tells us several important things about the God of the universe:

  1. God is not the God of the deists; a God who winds up the clock of the universe and then lets it run its course without intervention. God is not only involved in the day-to-day running of the universe, he actually has stepped into his creation to become a creature.
  2. God cares deeply about human beings. God does not look at the heart-wrenching suffering and injustices in this world with indifference, as some accuse him of doing. Instead, God entered into this mess in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born into poverty, saw and experienced great sorrow and suffering, was sentenced to death in a series of unjust trials, and was severely beaten before being nailed naked to a roughly-hewn piece of wood. This is not a God who ignores our pain, but who takes the sin of the world upon himself.
  3. Zygotes matter to God. Embryos matter. The Word became flesh at the point of conception. This tells us that a fertilized egg—a zygote—is fully human, which implies that to kill a zygote (i.e. abortion) is the moral equivalent of murdering any other human.

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, Ethics, GeoScriptures | , , , | 3 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:15 — The Protoevangelium

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
     and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
     and you shall bruise his heel.” — Genesis 3:15 ESV

The Bible, despite containing passages and books with a great diversity of cultural backgrounds, literary genres, authors, and topics, has several key themes that run throughout its pages, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. One of these themes is that of salvation: that though humans are sinful and in rebellion against their Creator, God has had a plan since the beginning (actually from before the beginning) to rescue and save us out of our sin and its consequences. Right now, we are somewhere past the middle of this process, which began in Genesis, culminated in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and will have its ultimate consummation when Christ wraps things up upon his return.

The first of many mentions in the Old Testament of God’s promise of a Messiah (an “annointed one” who would save God’s people from their sins) is in Genesis 3:15, which is referred to by Biblical scholars as the Protoevangelium, from the Latin for “first gospel.” After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God addressed the serpent, who is Satan (Rev 12:9) and pronounced his judgment of doom. Satan may have had a temporary victory in causing the first pair to succumb to temptation, but God would send an offspring of Eve who would crush Satan’s head, though Satan might cause a wound to this offspring in the fight.

This offspring (or more literally, “seed”) of Eve is the Lord Jesus Christ. At the crucifixion of Christ, Satan bruised Christ’s heel in a figurative sense, and may have once again thought he had won a great victory. That triumph, however, was again only temporary, as Jesus rose from the dead and bruised Satan’s head, which is a far more serious blow than having one’s heel bruised. Christ’s death secured forgiveness of sins for those who trust in Christ, and his resurrection gave us victory over our final enemy, which is death (Heb 2:14).

The Protoevangelium was an announcement of an individual offspring of Adam and Eve who would destroy the work of the devil. But there is another sense in which we as individuals are either offspring of God, or offspring of Satan. Jesus (in John 8:31-59) got into a discussion (if that is the right word) with a group of Jews who were in opposition to him. They referred to themselves as being children of God (v. 41), but Christ turned and said,

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” — John 8:42-44

There are offspring of the serpent, who reject Christ, and children of God (John 1:12), who have put their faith in Christ. Which are you?

Grace and Peace

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | , , | Leave a comment

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — When did “In the beginning” occur?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1

One thing that young-Earth creationists and the New Atheists agree on is that if one were to believe the Bible, one would have to believe that the universe, including planet Earth, is only 6000 years old. Of course, both the YECs and the atheists are wrong.

Genesis 1:3 through 2:3 is divided into seven days; six days of creative activity, and the seventh day, which is God’s Sabbath. For days one through six, there is a pattern of “And God said, __________” for the beginning of the day, and “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day” for the end of the day. Genesis 1:1-2 lies outside of this pattern, and so is likely not intended to be considered part of the first day of creation:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. — Genesis 1:1-2 (ESV)

Because the first two verses are outside of the “days” structure, the “heavens and the earth” are, according to the text, of indeterminate age. “In the beginning” could have occurred immediately before the six days (as YECs believe), 13.5 billion years earlier, or some other amount of time. The Bible does not say.

There is much more to the Biblical case for an old Earth (or better, the Biblical case for Biblical ambiguity regarding the age of the Earth), just as there is much more to the YEC case for a young Earth. But I think it is extremely important to point out that the starting point of the creation passage in Genesis is not “Earth is young” but ambiguity regarding the antiquity of the creation.

Grace and Peace

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , | 8 Comments

GeoScriptures — Proverbs 21:20 — Sustainability

“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”  — Proverbs 21:20 (NIV 1984)

This proverb condemns the fool who consumes all he has with no regard for the future.

As a Christian who believes that it is as much a sin to be a poor steward of the Earth as it is to be a poor steward of anything else God has given us, I see this wisdom from Solomon as being highly relevant in our age of consumption, greed, and inherent limitations in the world in which God has placed us.

Our society uses many natural resources—energy resources, water, air, soil, forests, fisheries—in a way that violates Proverbs 21:20. One can point to local examples where this is not the case, such as the increase of forested acres in the eastern United States or the cleaner air that exists as a result of the Clean Air Act, but overall these instances are the exception rather than the rule.

Proverbs 21:20 could be used as part of a Biblical case for the sustainable use of natural resources. All “sustainability” means, in terms of ecology, is that we use the resources God has given us in the creation in a way that ensures that we do not devour all we have. It means that we do not live just for today or for ourselves, but for tomorrow and those who will follow after us.

The alternative to sustainability is unsustainability. If we consume all we have, then what future generations will be left with won’t be sufficient to feed and power a world whose human population is predicted to peak at roughly ten billion around the mid-21st century.

Grace and Peace

December 16, 2012 Posted by | Environment, GeoScriptures, Nature | , , , | 1 Comment

GeoScriptures — Ephesians 4:15 — Speaking the truth in love

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” — Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984)

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul calls on Christians to do two things at once. The first of these is that we are to speak the truth. The second is that we do so in love. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good at multitasking.

The second part of this Biblical imperative is the greater challenge for most of us. The greatest commandment of Scripture in regards to human relationships is that we love one another. It is easy to get caught up in the issues we care deeply about—whether in the areas of doctrine, science, politics, or social issues—and to start looking at the other person as our adversary or enemy who needs to be set straight.

The challenge before me, and us, is to learn how to “speak the truth in love.” How do we “speak the truth in love” on topics such as creationism or the environment, when we think the other side takes a position that is, at times, both wrong and harmful?

My first suggestion is humility. We are not God; we do not know it all. For instance, all of us certainly could misunderstand the Bible. YECs would say, “Yeah, you certainly don’t understand the Bible,” and I am sure that there are things that I don’t get completely right in regards to Genesis. I do sincerely believe that the Bible is ambiguous on topics such as the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also believe that there are things YECs read into the text that are not there, and that they are guilty at times of a hyper-literal over-reading of the text in ways that were not intended, and I would like to see more humility on their part as well.

We also need to be humble in regards to our science. We, as individuals and as a scientific community, do not know everything we think we know. This goes for both old-Earthers and young-Earthers.

Second, sometimes it is best to be silent. This is hard for me, but it is better to say nothing at all than to speak the truth in an unloving way. I don’t need to win every debate, and need to be aware that I could easily club a brother or sister to death with my arguments from either the Bible or science. Victory is not the highest goal.

Third, I think we need to seek to find common ground. I have tremendous areas of agreement with my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in terms of my view of both Scripture and the world, and I need to seek to build on that. I ask that they would seek to do the same.

Fourth, I think it is better to use neutral terms and phrases, such as “Creationist X is incorrect because…” than “What Creationist X says is complete and utter nonsense.” I may think that what Creationist X says is nonsense, but in order to love to them as a brother in Christ, I need to be careful.

Fifth, it is important to keep primary issues primary, and secondary issues secondary. Of course, this is a bit of a challenge when we cannot agree on what is secondary and what is primary. I will say that it is more important to me that I maintain unity with a brother or sister in Christ than it is that I win a “debate.”

Sixth, name-calling is off limits. Those who disagree with me are not nincompoops or extremists, and I am not a compromiser or a so-called Christian.

I have no doubt that you can scroll through my 1000+ posts on The GeoChristian and find instances where I have not lived up to these standards. In a way, this is an exploratory blog post. What is fair (and loving) in a formal or semi-formal debate could be different than what is loving in a dialog with a lay Christian without a science background who has only read young-Earth literature.

I have a couple questions:

  • How do I say “Creationist X is wrong wrong wrong” in a loving way?
  • What are other ways in which we can succeed or fail at “speaking the truth in love” as we discuss Earth issues we feel passionate about?

Grace and Peace

P.S. I intend to start a new series called “GeoScriptures,” in which I will examine verses or passages that relate in one way or another to the Biblical doctrine of Creation. This verse on truth and love seems like a good place to start, as it is easy for all of us to miss this high standard as we discuss issues on which there might be disagreement.

December 9, 2012 Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Ethics, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 11 Comments