How 1 Peter 3:15 Teaches The Deity of Christ

It is a verse that all of us who are involved in apologetics have grown to love and cherish. 1 Peter 3:15 is the New Testament’s mandate for being always ready to offer a rational defense for the Christian worldview. It is unfortunate, however, that we have come to be so familiar with this verse that we miss its full significance, for the text teaches far more than the need to provide a defense of the faith. This is best seen when read in the context of verse 14 which precedes it. Here’s the text of 1 Peter 3:14-16. Take particular note of the underlined text.

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Verse 14 in fact contains a quotation (the underlined text) from Isaiah 8:12, in which we read, “Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” Verse 15 of 1 Peter 3 continues the quotation into verse 13 of Isaiah 8, but with a subtle change. Isaiah 8:13 reads, “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.” Compare this to the start of 1 Peter 3:15: “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Peter has replaced “the Lord of hosts” from Isaiah 8:13 with “Christ the Lord”, asserting that it is He whom we are to regard as Holy. In so doing, the Apostle Peter has here effectively identified Jesus as being of the same essence as Yahweh, another Biblical proof of the deity of Christ.

Getting Over a Hump: Does the Lack of Camel Bones Disprove the Historicity of the Biblical Patriarchs?

In a recent article published in the journal Tel Aviv, Drs. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, believe that they have pin pointed the date of the domestication of camels in Israel.

Their research is based primarily from data that they have collected from the Aravah (or Arabah) valley located in the southern Levant. The Arabah which is now desert, was a once verdant valley in antiquity. The Arabah is located just south of the Dead Sea and runs roughly north and south bordering Israel & Jordan (see image below)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The conclusion of their research indicates that camels were domesticated between the 9th – 12th century B.C.. An article which summarized the finding stated:

“In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”[1]

The researchers seemed overly eager to point out the discrepancy with the Bible.

“Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.[2]

But, is it really the case that the biblical narratives which mention the patriarchs, were written after the events they describe? Or, could there be another explanation?

Camels and the Biblical Patriarchs

As far back as the book of Genesis, camels are can be linked with such Old Testament patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob, Laban and Moses. Camels are also mentioned periodically on various other occasions throughout later Old Testament history.

Francisco Hayez - 1844 (Wikicommons)

Jacob meets Esau by Francisco Hayez – 1844 (Wikicommons)

In Genesis 12:16 & 24:10-67 camels were used for a trip to Syria; they were also included as a bride price, and when Abraham was in Egypt camels were a small part of larger herds of other animals.

In Genesis 30:43; 31:34; 32:15 Jacob’s flocks along with Laban included camels as herd animals for Esau in the Seir area. In the Joseph narrative (Gen. 37:25) camels were used by Midianite-Ishmaelite traders caravanning to Egypt. In Exodus 9:3 camels were among the animals which were plagued during Moses’ day in Egypt.

Resolving the Camel Anachronism

For those of us who hold that the Old Testament patriarchal narratives are historical in nature, how does one solve the dilemma that this new research seems to reveal? Does the lack of camel bones in southern Israel (in the Arabah) during the Patriarchal period reveal the biblical narrative to be the work of late writers?

There are four good reasons why I do not believe this recent “discovery” is fatal to the historicity of the Old Testament patriarchs.

First of all, one of the many things that the history of archaeology in the Levant has shown over the past several decades is that one report is certainly not the last word on any given subject on ancient or biblical history. New research continues to overthrow long-held assumptions and biases against the Bible.[3]

Secondly, the archaeologists primary research area was conducted (according to their own report) in copper mining sites in the southern Arabah. According to the Bible, the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, et. al.), were pastoralists and semi-nomads whose travel itinerary would not have left them in any one place for any length of time. It is not surprising why little camel remains are discovered in the southern Levant.

Third, as Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen points out, camels don’t actually figure that large in the lives of the patriarchs in any significant sense anyway. He writes:

“A common claim is that mentions of camels are anachronistic before circa 1100. What are the facts? In biblical terms, between roughly 2000 and 1200 their role is minimal.”[4]

In other words – yes – the biblical patriarchs owned camels, but it is not as if they were camel traders or camel herders. Camels played a small part in their lives.

But even so, other research suggests that camels have been present on the Arabian peninsula since at least 6,000 B.C.. From 2200-1200 B.C. rock art in Southwest Arabia and possible camel remains from Bir Risisim in the Levant suggest that camels were used for their milk and for transport.[5]

Camels were definitely present in the geographical area, as well as during the time of the patriarchs, so merely because we don’t find their remains in one specific location or archaeological period, certainly doesn’t mean that there are none at all.

This leads me to the fourth and final reason – Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – a phrase often attributed to the great American Biblical archaeologist, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. In chaper IV of Dr. Yamauchi’s great book, The Stones and the Scriptures (written 42 years ago) he rightly asks:

“How much of the evidence has survived the ravages of time? How many ancient sites have archaeologists been able to excavate? When does the lack of evidence for a biblical statement prove that an error is involved? Does archaeology offset the negative appraisal of the Bible developed by higher criticism? …Historians of antiquity in using the archaeological evidence have very often failed to realize how slight is the evidence at our disposal. It would not be exaggerating to point out that what we have is but a fraction of the possible evidence.”[6]

For more information on the historicity of the Old Testament Patriarchs see my previous articles here


            [1]http://www.aftau.org/site/News2/2024116989?page=NewsArticle&id=19673&news_iv_ctrl=-1 (accessed, February 11, 14)

            [2]Ibid.

            [3] For example: the discovery of the “Tel-Dan inscription” in 1993-4 by Avraham Biram in Northern Israel, containing the extra-biblical name of David (in the Tel-Dan Stele)

            [4] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge, U.K.; 2003), 338-9.

            [5] See, Juris Zarins, “Camel,” in David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1, A-C (New York, London: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), 824-6.

            [6] Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Stones and Scriptures (Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1972), 146-62.

Was the God of the Bible Copied from Ancient Myths?

Did the Old Testament God (Yahweh) evolve from Canaanite gods & myths such as Baal, El, etc.?

This is a common claim by liberal OT scholars which is based on several faulty assumptions & presuppositions about the Torah (Pentateuch) and the stories that are contained in it.

The biggest (faulty) assumption is: that the first five books of the Bible were essentially “invented,” compiled (cobbled together) by Jews during Babylonian Exile (ca. 586 B.C.) who borrowed material from Mesopotamian & other indigenous (i.e. Canaanite) sources.[1]

But, it’s no surprise that there would be some similarities, simply because Hebrew is a Western Semitic language and before Moses, the OT patriarchs would not have worshiped God by his covenant name YHWH (Ex. 3:13-15).

The generic Canaanite word/name for “god” was originally  il um, which later became el. So this generic Canaanite word (name) El” was used by biblical writers, yet the usage was quite different.

For instance the Old Testament patriarchs worshipped God under various (modified) names such as: El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3; Gen. 17:1; 43:14; etc.); El ‘Elyon (Gen.14:18-24); El ‘Olam (Gen. 21:33); El Ro’i (Gen. 16:13; cf. Yahweh Yir’eh, Gen. 22:14); El Bethel (Gen. 31:13; 35:7). [2]

Admittedly, the name of the God of the biblical patriarchs (El), was at times similar & identical to their pagan neighbors, but there was a marked difference in HOW they worshipped El.

OT scholar John Bright interestingly points out that,“All of the patriarchal narratives were written from the point of view of Yahwistic theology, by men who were worshippers of Yahweh; whether they used the name or not, they had no doubt that the God of the patriarchs was actually Yahweh, God of Israel, whom the patriarchs, whether consciously or unconsciously, worshipped. Yet, there is also internal evidence in the text that the Patriarchs also knew God as Yahweh before Moses (or at least Yah”) but did not fully understand the full extent and meaning of the name until that time. [3]

One of the main (but certainly not the only) differences between God (OT – Yahweh) and Ba al, El is that, whereas the Canaanite “gods” have theogony’s (myths of their origins) such as the Baal Epic of Ugarit & others; the God of the OT has no origin. His name means “I AM.” There is no theogony for Yahweh because He has no beginning. He IS. Genesis begins with Him alone.. “In the beginning God...” (Gen. 1). Throughout the OT He is presented as standing above and apart from all other so-called “gods” & idols of the surrounding nations (see Jeremiah 10).

Another difference is that when God (Yahweh) creates, He speaks creation into existence, rather than having to fight a dragon or monster, or some other “god” in a cosmic battle for power. The Canaanite & other pagan “gods” all have to fight or go to war[4] to create, whereas God (Yahweh) merely speaks all things into existence by the power of His word (Gen. 1).

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic "Enuma Elish"

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic “Enuma Elish”

The last thing I would point out is that recent discoveries in archaeology (Egyptology) now show that the Pentateuch (the Exodus & Joshua in particular) is a record of historical events (exactly as they were recorded in the text). These discoveries and other internal literary factors, undermine the hypothesis/theory that the Torah was mythologized & invented during the Babylonian Exile. These discoveries will certainly frustrate those who have built their careers on the belief that Moses did not write the Torah.

Yahweh had no origin. He was and is from everlasting to everlasting. Certainly monotheism did not begin with Moses (anyone can know that there is one God from Creation – Psalm 19 & Romans 1:18-23), but the (monotheistic) God recorded in the early chapters of Genesis was known by His connection to certain men who had a personal and intimate relationship to Him by faith (Gen. 12; Heb. 11).

That same God still calls men to know Him & follow Him today. Two-thousand years ago, He revealed Himself perfectly in the form of a man (Jesus Christ) so that we could know Him as much as we possibly could (Hebrews 1).

Other Sources for further study:

John Walton’s book, Ancient Israelite Literature In It’s Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts is a great source to look at the major differences between the OT account of God and the surrounding pagan (Canaanite) accounts of God (Baal, El). There are too many to list here.

One more excellent source (although his section on the Exodus/Conquest is now out of date) is William F. Albright’s book, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1968). The first three chapters are especially helpful in revealing the historical context of the religion of early Israel. Chapter 3 is “Archaeology and the Religion of the Canaanites.”

 

[1] This idea came to “full bloom” in the “Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch” of Julius Welhausen in his works, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), and Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1885). These works were preceded & anticipated in the previous century by the writings of  Eichorn, de Wette, Graf & others.

            [2] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 96.

            [3] Ibid. See also, Allen P. Ross, “Did the Patriarchs Know the Name of the Lord?,” in David M. Howard Jr., & Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 323-39.

            [4] for instance the epic battle between Marduk & Tiamat in the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, where Tiamat is killed by Marduk, the storm god who divides her body which then becomes the heavens and the earth.

“Eternity Has the Floor:” Another Look at Pascal’s Wager

Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except religion. Eternity has the floor.

~Alfred Nobel: read at his funeral (1896)

The above words were spoken at Alfred Nobel’s funeral service in 1896. In life Nobel was an interesting but ironic man. He is remembered, of course as the Swiss chemist and engineer who invented dynamite among other things, and also the man whose name is associated with coveted prizes in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. Nobel was also an atheist, and yet he also left large sums of money to churches. In 1888 when Nobel was reading through a French newspaper, he was astonished to read about his own obituary – the heading was “The merchant of death has died.” As it turned out, it was actually his brother Ludwig that had died. It would only be eight years later that Alfred himself would die by a brain hemorrhage at age 63.

Apparently Nobel had given some thought to that moment when he would face his own mortality. It’s not a pleasant thought – thinking about one’s own death, but one day every person must stand in silence and enter that mysterious realm beyond this life on earth, or as Nobel says… that eternal conundrum

Cementary

The Old Testament patriarch Job pondered this question millennia ago when he asked, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

Atheists and materialists alike, stake their eternal souls on the belief and the affirmation that there is no afterlife or soul which survives the body after physical death. But is science equipped to answer such a question? Pascal would say no.

In the 17th Century (the 1600’s) a brilliant Frenchman (child prodigy, pioneering mathematician, inventor of the world’s first mechanical calculator, philosopher and scientist)[1] named Blaise Pascal put forth a rather strange argument for religious faith – and not just generic religious faith, but faith in full orbed Christianity.[2]

This is Pascal’s famous argument called “The Wager” (or The Bet).

But first let’s clear up a common misconception and make one clarification about Pascal’s famous Wager.

(1). He is not proposing “faith in faith” (a blind leap in the dark), but assumes that we have our data correct (faith is only as good as its object) – i.e. that the true God is the God of Christianity and that salvation is found only in a belief in Jesus Christ and that rejection of Him will result in eternal damnation.[3]

(2) Similar to the above notion – the Wager should not be considered in complete isolation from the larger work of Pascal’s Pensees (his apologetic for Christianity).

As philosopher James R. Peter’s observes, “Properly understood, the wager makes a compelling but limited point….”[4]

Kreeft clarfies:

“The Wager is not an attempt to prove the God exists. It is not a new argument for the existence of God. Rather it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to “bet” on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level. …It is not an alternative to the traditional arguments for the existence of God… [the Wager]…is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation.”[5]

What Pascal’s Wager highlight’s is the fact that we are all “in the game” – there is no neutrality on the question of God’s existence or of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

He writes:

“Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong.

Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice… ‘No, but I will condemn them for not having made this particular choice, but any choice, for although one calls heads and the other one are equally at fault, the fact is that they are both at fault: the right thing is not to wager at all.’

Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. What will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good: and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness.”[6]

Finally and interestingly, the Wager comes down to a pleasure (or a happiness) calculus – which appeals to what a person has the potential to gain from such a wager.

Here is what is at stake.

A. God exists (& Christianity is true)

  • If I believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I gain eternal happiness and lose nothing.  
  • If I do not believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I lose everything (including happiness and pleasure).

B. God does not exist (Christianity is not true)

  • If I believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.
  • If I do not believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.

If Christianity is true then those who don’t believe it have everything to lose. But if it is not true then nothing, in the end, is lost to the pious believer. It is really the unbeliever who has more to lose if they are wrong.

Pensee 241 provides a good summary:

I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true [& it not actually be true].

On death’s threshold “eternity has the floor,” then religious questions don’t seem so silly after all.

What will you choose then?


[1] For an old but excellent biography of Pascal’s life see Morris Bishop’s classic, Pascal: The Life of Genius (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936)

[2] See his Pensees, 418.

[3] For more on this point see Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 292-3.

[4] James R. Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 188-9.

[5] Kreeft, pg. 291 [emphasis mine].

[6] “233” in Pensees, Translated by W.F. Trotter, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 213-6 [emphasis mine].

Human Design Blindly Echoes Design in Nature

"Gears" from a plant hopping insect look designed

“Gears” from a plant hopping insect.

Scientists continually tell us that certain features found in nature are not “designed” but are the product of unguided evolutionary development. In his book The Blind Watchmaker biologist Richard Dawkins curiously has to remind his readers and warn them that some things in nature may appear designed when in fact they are not. He wrote that, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

A recent article posted by Christian apologist, Melissa Cain Travis, offers some compelling reasons that nature is in fact, designed. Many of these designs are copied either unconsciously or consciously (via the science of Biomimicry) by humans. The most reasonable inference is that these designs come from an Intelligent Creator.

You can read about it here

 

A Not So Bright Future: Technology, Atheism & the Death of Man

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

It is widely believed that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ushered in the twentieth century with his famous phrase, “God is dead…”[1] Nietzsche himself died in 1900. Obviously atheism didn’t start in the twentieth century with Nietzsche. In fact, he was the culmination (the pinnacle) of a long line of thinkers which reached back into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[2] The European Enlightenment promised grand and wonderful things when human reason finally divorced itself from the shackles of faith.[3] Using the newly found tools of the “scientific method,” (via Bacon & Spinoza); a humanistic morality which was becoming increasingly devoid of God (via Nietzsche); and the burgeoning industrial revolution with its new technologies, the twentieth century was set take mankind to new heights never before dreamt of – a utopia of sorts. Some who were wise, however, could see that “wicked things were written on the sky.”[4] The next century (the 20th) would either be wonderful or it would be a nightmare. Enter H.G. Wells novel, A Modern Utopia (1905), the book which inspired Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future in Brave New World (1932), and later, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

Both of these novels predicted a future in which mankind would be destroyed either by external oppression by a despot using technology (the big-brother of Orwell), or through technologies which would make us lazy and undo our capacity to think (Huxley).[5] In both instances, technology would somehow be used to lead to our undoing.

If there is no God (or at least since He died in the 19th century) then humans must put their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future in something. Enter the Enlightenment 2.0 – 21st century edition – human reason, science and technology will surely help us solve all of the world’s problems. How are we doing 13 years into this century? Not very well. Do we ever learn? Usually not.

Neil Postman makes a brilliant observation in, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992). An observation that we should etch into our heads.

Our most serious problems are not technical, nor do they arise from inadequate information. If a nuclear catastrophe occurs, it shall not be because of inadequate information. Where people are dying of starvation, it does not occur because of inadequate information. If families break up, children are mistreated, crime terrorizes a city, education is impotent, it does not happen because of inadequate information. Mathematical equations, instantaneous communication, and vast quantities of information have nothing to do with any of these problems. And the computer is useless in addressing them.[6]

The scientific, atheistic and materialistic worldview is utterly incapable of ensuring civilization. It can’t be trusted. Why? Because the last century has been one gigantic experiment in what it is capable of and also of what it is incapable of.

In my next post A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past, we will take a look at some epic examples of the complete failure of the European Enlightenment and materialistic atheism and what it could teach us about our future – if anything at all.


[1] See, “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” in Walter Kaufmann, Editor & Translator, The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).

[2] For an excellent book on the philosophical battles which ensued between various German thinkers on the role of reason during the era of the Enlightenment see, Fredrick C. Beiser’s, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); for a Christian analysis of the Enlightenment see, James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1954).

[3] Interestingly, the modern Internet & Wikipedia had its birth in the Enlightenment with the idea of the Encyclopédie which was published in France 1751-1772.

[4] To borrow line from Chesterton’s poem “The Ballad of the White Horse” – a poem about England’s Saxon king, Alfred the Great.

[5] I am indebted to Neil Postman for this observation in his excellent book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Postman’s thesis is that Huxley was right. History has proven that he was correct.

[6] Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p.119.

 

Archaeology, the Bible & the Great Dating Debate

An article posted by the Biblical Archaeology Society cites a recent report published in BASOR (the Bulletin for the American Schools of Oriental Research) which calls into question the dating of the Siloam Tunnel which was supposedly excavated during the reign of the biblical king, Hezekiah. According to references in the Old Testament (specifically 2 Kings 20:20 & 2 Chronicles 32:30), the water tunnel was dug by Hezekiah in preparation of a siege to Jerusalem which was led by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the late eighth century B.C..

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

The significance of this new study by Israeli geologists, Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev and Ram Weinberge, is the re-dating of the tunnel to the time of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh. According to these scholars, there simply wasn’t enough time for Hezekiah’s workers to have excavated such a long tunnel. The three geologists from the Geological Survey of Israel maintain that it would have taken about 4 years to dig the 533 meter (approx. 1748 ft.) tunnel. But as archaeologists, Aren Maeir and Jeffrey Chadwick rightfully point out:

“In marshaling evidence to support their model, however, the authors entirely ignore the only contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous textual sources that shed light on Jerusalem in the Iron Age II (and that specifically mention aspects of the city’s water system)—namely the narrative passages in Isaiah 7–8 and the historical allusions in Isaiah 36 and 2 Kings 18. The only reference to Biblical material in the article is the authors’ after-the-fact quotation of the single verse in 2 Chronicles 32:30, which recalls that Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon and brought it down to the west side of the City of David.”[1]

In addition to this oversight, another glaring omission of the geologists is information gleaned from Assyrian inscriptional sources.[2] According to a reconstruction of this period based on Assyrian records, Judah’s revolt against Assyria began at about 705 B.C., exactly four years before Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem – exactly the amount of time that the geologists said that Hezekiah’s workers needed to complete the tunnel!

Siloam Tunnel inscription records when workers from the 8th Cent. B.C. met when digging from opposite directions. The inscription is now located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Siloam Tunnel inscription records when workers from the 8th Cent. B.C. met when digging from opposite directions. The inscription is now located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

There are two observations I would like to make about this:

  1. As I have stated in my previous posts on archaeology – one of the major areas of debate in Old Testament archaeology is dating and not a lack of material evidence. We have seen this sort of thing crop up in other debates in the Old Testament such as the dating of the Exodus and the Conquest – specifically the debate over Tel es-Sultan (or ancient Jericho) between John Garstang and Kathleen Kenyon and the recent work of Dr. Bryant Wood.

Skeptics of the Bible and theological liberals complain that the stories in the Bible are mostly fabrications but when we do find archaeological corroboration then they move the goal-post back by re-dating the discovery to an earlier or later date.

  1. The second observation is that this episode highlights the prevalence of an extreme bias against the historical trustworthiness of the Biblical text in professional scholarly and archaeological circles (specifically ASOR – the American Schools of Oriental Research and their peer-reviewed publication BASOR – the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research).

If the article was “peer-reviewed” before it was published, then how could they have missed such an oversight of basic historical knowledge?

I suspect that there will be more dating debates in the days ahead, as ongoing research and excavations in Bible lands reveal even more corroboration and affirmation that the Biblical text is indeed trustworthy when it records events that happened in the past.

As the late novelist Michael Crichton once wrote, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”

All of the “leaves” of the New Testament are connected to branches which reach down to the trunk and roots of the Old Testament. As Jesus taught, “…if they would not believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).


[1] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/regarding-recent-suggestions-redating-the-siloam-tunnel/?mqsc=E3610342&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDailyNewsletter&utm_campaign=E3B827, (accessed August 30, 2013).

[2] See, A. Kirk Grayson and Jamie Novotny, The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC), Part 1 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?

First off, I apologize for the long delay in getting this post up.

As promised, let us now consider what is perhaps THE greatest salvation event in the entire Old Testament – the Exodus. The Exodus is not just an old Hollywood movie in which Charlton Heston played Moses, it was an event grounded in history and is a record of the redemption of an entire nation based on God’s promises to Abraham centuries earlier (see Gen. 12; 18; & 22).

10Command56

As many Christians are aware, the entire Old Testament predicts and anticipates Christ in type and in prophecy.[1]  The biblical Exodus and Passover, both point to Christ as the symbolic and true Passover lamb whose blood was shed to atone for the sins of the nation and redeem all those who believe – not just for Jews but anyone who will believe. The 64 million dollar question, however, is how do we know the exodus actually happened like the Bible says it did?  Most Christians take the biblical account at face value and believe that it happened as the Bible says, yet few can point to evidence outside of the Bible that it actually took place. Understandably, many skeptics are quick to point out that there is not a shred of historical evidence for any Israelite exodus from Egypt.

Let me state here that a blog article is certainly NOT the place to learn everything there is to know about all of the complex historical dimensions of the Exodus, but hopefully it will answer some of your questions and provide an answer to those who would question the biblical record.

As I have stated in my previous post, chronology is the key to unlocking the history of ancient Israel and to our understanding of how events recorded in the Bible parallel the histories of other nations in the Ancient Near East. If we assume an incorrect chronological date for a biblical event, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to locate that event in the past. Such is the case, not only with locating the biblical patriarchs, but also in discovering the exodus, the conquest, or Israelite kingdom under the rule of David and Solomon in the archaeological record. In truth, this is where much (but certainly not all) of the battle lies when it comes to debates in biblical archaeology [a term now abandoned by most scholars][2]

The Date of the Exodus

In his book on the Old Testament historical period, professor Eugene Merrill states,

“The date of the exodus, the most important event in Israel’s past, is so crucial to the rest of the story that it is mandatory to give some consideration to the problem of ascertaining that date and as many other important dates as possible. Obviously, there is no reckoning of time in the Old Testament with reference to B.C. or A.D. or any other point fixed and known to the Old Testament authors, so the matter is more complicated than it might ordinarily seem.”[3]

Most critical scholars and archaeologists today date the writing of the book of Exodus from around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.), and usually hold that the Exodus is an etiological story created by Jewish scribes during Babylonian captivity to lend credibility and a sense of purpose to their plight. It certainly has no basis in history or fact. But if one uses the Bible’s own internal references concerning the Exodus then the date should be evident. Elsewhere Merrill explains:

“According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].”[4]

IF this is the correct date of the exodus then, in theory, we should be able to locate archaeological remains of that event in ancient Egypt. But not so fast. Just because we might have the right date doesn’t mean that Egyptian evidence will be evident. More questions need to be asked. Before we look at some of those questions, let’s begin with what is probable: the identity of the pharaoh of the Exodus. Who was he? Furthermore, what do we know about him? This might seem like a simple question, but it is a bit more complex than one might imagine.

Who Was The Pharaoh of the Exodus? 

I find it rather interesting that the Exodus account in the Old Testament doesn’t mention the name of the pharaoh. Since Moses was the author, he certainly could have named him. So why didn’t he?  In short, I believe that pharaoh’s name is not mentioned on purpose. Throughout the Exodus narrative, the pharaoh either implies or asks “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2). The irony, perhaps intentional, is that we don’t know pharaoh’s name, but we do know the Lord’s name (Yahweh – “I AM”).  The book of Exodus, was not written to exalt the Egyptian pharaoh (who was considered  “the divine god-king”), but rather the God of Israel.

Annex - Brynner, Yul (Ten Commandments, The)_NRFPT_06

Yul Brynner as Ramesses I in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic movie, “The Ten Commandments”

An additional problem in ascertaining the exact pharaoh of the Exodus has to do with a debate within Egyptology itself. The debate concerns assigning correct dates to the reigns of Pharaohs. The dating of Egypt’s pharaohs comes primarily (although not exclusively) from the 3rd century B.C. Egyptian priest & historian Manetho who ordered the reigns of the pharaohs into thirty dynasties or families, in his work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt).[5] The ancient Egyptians themselves kept record of time according to an astronomical cycle called the Sothic cycle. One of the reasons why many scholars today argue for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt is the question of whether or not the Sothic cycle is a reliable method for dating.[6] To make a very long and complex story short, I’ll state here that I hold to the revised chronology which makes minor adjustments on dates and therefore affects the identity of the pharaoh.

According to the standard chronology, most critical scholars believe that Rameses II (ca. 1304-1236 B.C.) was the pharaoh of the exodus. There are, however, many problems with identifying Rameses II as the pharaoh of the exodus, one of which is  that he was one of the longest reigning kings in ancient Egypt. As Merrill points out, “If Rameses’ death had brought Moses back to Egypt, the exodus would have taken place after 1236, a date too late to satisfy anybody.”[7] But perhaps, more importantly, there is no archaeological or inscriptional evidence in Egypt or ancient Canaan which fit the biblical descriptions.

But, don’t despair! With a little detective work; a starting point of around 1446 B.C.; and a knowledge of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty, it is possible to ascertain the probable identity of the pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Interestingly, there are about three pharaohs whose lives parallel and interact with the OT Exodus narrative: (1) the pharaoh who issued the decree to kill the firstborns; (2) the pharaoh of the oppression of Israel and (3) the pharaoh of the actual exodus event itself. Because of space, we’ll look at the first and last one.

The Pharaoh Who Decreed to Kill the Firstborn Jewish Children

From chronological considerations found in the biblical text[8], it is very possible that Amenhotep I was the pharaoh who issued the decree in Exodus 1:15-16 to kill all male Hebrews. As we look closer at this time frame in Egyptian history we also discover that Thutmose I (1528-1508 B.C.), the son of Amenhotep I, had a daughter named Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is fairly well known from historical and archaeological sources and has a very interesting story herself. In order to secure royal inheritance rights for herself, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely, Hatshepsut assumed the role of pharaoh along with and her younger (male) nephew (& stepson) Thutmose III. As William Murnane observes, “Although Hatshepsut did not dethrone her nephew, she asserted a claim to royal power equal to his and, as senior coregent, took precedence over him in contemporary monuments.”[9] During her co-regency with the younger Thutmose III, Egypt enjoyed a time of prosperity and great building. One of the most well known structures which survives today is the queen’s mortuary temple (also called Deir el-Bahari) located in the Valley of the Kings.

Il_tempio_di_Hatshepsut

Deir el-Bahari or Hatshepsut’s temple located near Luxor, Egypt (Wikipedia)

It is very possible that when she was younger, it was this bold young queen who drew Moses from the Nile (Ex. 2:5-10). In another touch of irony, Hatshepsut is said to be one of the first women in ancient history of whom we are well informed.[10] If she is the daughter of pharaoh who rescued Moses from the Nile against the decree of her grandfather Amenhotep I, then it seems appropriate that she is remembered in both Egyptian and biblical history.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

Finally, we consider the identity of the famous pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Following the conclusions of the above discussion, and if the revised chronology of Egyptian history is correct, then Amenhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.) must be the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Merrill elaborates:

Our identification of Amenhotep II as the pharaoh of the exodus is supported by two other considerations. First, although most of the kings of Dynasty 18 made their principle residence at Thebes, far to the south of the Israelites in the Delta, Amenhotep was at home in Memphis and apparently reigned from there most of the time. This placed him in close proximity to the land of Goshen and made him readily accessible to Moses and Aaron. Second, the best understanding suggests that Amenhotep’s power did not pass to his eldest son, but rather to Thutmose IV, a younger son. This is at least implied in the so-called dream stela found at the base of the Great Sphinx near Memphis.[11]

Other inscriptional evidence outside of the biblical record gives us a picture of what Amenhotep was like. According to Alfred J. Hoerth,

Amenhotep II was a famous sportsman in his youth and he left several stories of his physical abilities (ANET 243-45). For example, it was recorded that no one else was strong enough to draw his bow. One day he tested two hundred stiff bows and then began riding his chariot around a series of copper targets, each about three inches thick. According to the story, every shot hit the mark, and the arrows fell through the back of the targets.[12]

In addition to these and other traits of bravado and military prowess, it is understandable why Moses was reluctant to confront the pharaoh as God had commanded him. Yet, as the story unfolded in Exodus and the Lord God sent the ten plagues to Amenhotep II, we read that the he “hardened his heart” against God and against setting the Jews free. This seemingly benign statement – “the hardening of pharaoh’s heart” – is also an argument for the authenticity of the biblical account. If (or since) Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and he had first-hand knowledge of Egyptian culture and religion, then he certainly would have understood that the “hardening of the heart” was not a good thing. This is according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani). This document was a religious text which describes what happened in the afterlife according to Egyptian religion. After death, the pharaoh’s heart was weighed in a scale balance by Anubis (the god of the underworld) against the feather of ma’at or truth.[13] To have a heavy heart or a hardened heart (i.e. a stubborn/proud heart) would have condemned the pharaoh in the afterlife. Interestingly, most ancient Egyptian mummies (especially pharaohs) have been found buried with sacred trinkets and scarabs (dung beetles)[14] made from gold or other materials, and would have been placed over the heart to protect it in the afterlife. These scarabs were inscribed with spells from the Book of the Dead.[15]

There is so much more that I could mention here, but as you can see from the above discussion, this is just the tip of the iceberg (as they say) of evidence for the biblical exodus. There is actually much more internal textual and literary evidence that the Exodus account is genuine, but space and time will not allow us to review it here. For more detailed information I would recommend two of the best sources I know of which are accessible to most people: (1) Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament by John D. Currid, and (2) Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier.

I think it’s probably safe to say that many biblical skeptics demand spectacular evidence and spectacular evidence may be forthcoming. Research is continuing in this fascinating field and new discoveries are being made every year. One thing I can say confidently, is that so far, the Egyptian evidence, when properly understood is consistent with the biblical record. Even our adherence to the new chronology is within the pale of academic respectability and orthodoxy.

In my final blog on this subject (which hopefully will not be this long!), we’ll examine other evidences of the Exodus as well as evidence for the military conquest of Canaan under Joshua.


[1] See, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.’s, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1995) & Sam Nadler’s, Messiah in the Feasts of Israel (Charlotte, NC: Word of Messiah Ministries, 2006).

[2] See Ziony Zevit, “The Biblical Archaeology versus Syro-Palestinian Archaeology Debate in Its American Institutional and Intellectual Contexts,” in James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, Eds, The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions (Grand Rapids, London: Eerdmans  Publishing Company, 2004), 3-19.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, An Historical Survey of the Old Testament, Second Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 97.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58.

[5] See, William W. Hallo & William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1971), 210-213.

[6] For more on this, see David M. Rohl’s book, Pharaoh’s and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995). In this book Rohl argues for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt based on refinements in archaeology and inscriptional evidence.

[7] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 62.

[8] Such as the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 and Ex. 7:7 which states that Moses was 80 years old when he led the people from Egypt (assuming an approximate exodus date of 1446 B.C.)

[9] William J. Murnane, “New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20)” in David Noel Freedman, Editor in Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 348-53.

[10] Attributed to Egyptologist, James Henry Breasted – not sure of the original source.

[11] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 63.

[12] Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 161.

[13] For very rich and enlightening discussion on this topic see, John D. Currid’s excellent book, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), especially his discussion ‘The Hardening of the Pharaoh’s Heart’ pp. 96-103

[14] Considered sacred in ancient Egypt. Thousands of these have been discovered in the Ancient Near East.

[15] See, The Book of the Dead (The Papyrus of Ani) Egyptian Text Transliteration and Translation by E.A. Wallis Budge (New York: Dover Publication, 1967). This work contains many fascinating details on Egyptian culture, religion and beliefs about the afterlife.

Ancient Israel: Myth or History?

Part 1

The Importance of this Question

Among the many archaeological anomalies which the biblical apologist must contend with, perhaps the enigma of the Biblical Patriarchs is one of the thorniest. Who were the founding fathers of our Judeo-Christian faith? Who were the Israelites? Were they just figures invented by someone in the past to lend credibility to the stories in the Old Testament or were they real people who actually lived in the past? This blog will be the first of three that I will post concerning the historicity of the earliest chapters of the Bible. Part one will be a statement as to why Ancient Israel is important to apologetics. In part two I will highlight the main arguments and criticisms against historical Israel and in part three I will share evidence from history and archaeology as to why we can trust the Old Testament when it comes to our spiritual forefathers.

 

On a recent family trip to Virginia, I took a tour of Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello. Jefferson was a man of many talents and abilities, and of course, he was the third president of the United States of America. Just recently a new visitor’s center has been constructed which highlights the amazing life and contributions of this man who has been called one of the founding fathers of liberty and a (then) new democratic form of government, not only in America but also in the world. He was in every sense of the word a founding father for America and for freedom loving peoples around the world. Monuments have been built in his honor, statues have been erected, museums built, and libraries have been constructed; all for the sole purpose of remembering who Jefferson was and what he did. Jefferson was certainly not the only founding father of America. At the founding of this great country stands three great men: Washington, Jefferson and Adams.

Within Judeo Christendom there also stands three great founding fathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We know about these men in the pages of the Pentateuch or Torah.  In 1 Samuel 1:27a, David wrote the haunting song of lament upon hearing the death of Saul and Jonathan. He cried,  “How are the mighty fallen…?” In responding to this, Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier writes, “The same question might be asked of the central figures in Israel’s early history – Abraham, Moses, and Joshua – in the scholarly literature in the past two decades.”[1] So, where have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses gone?

Many notable Christian apologists today, rightly defend the historicity of the New Testament and the Resurrection, however, when it comes to defending the historicity of Old Testament there is a paucity of defenders. In our apologetic defense of the resurrection, the life of Christ, Intelligent Design, theism, and many other worthy subjects, it seems as if evangelical apologists have side-stepped the Pentateuch and the Patriarchs.[2] Why is this? Are the earliest chapters of Scripture not as important as the latter? After all, the theological message of redemption is intimately linked not only to the resurrection of Christ but also to the historical reality of Adam and Eve and the faith of Abraham and Noah.

 

Christ Affirmed the Historicity of the Patriarchs

 In addition to the historical and archaeological data I will be sharing on future posts, those who hold to a high view of Scripture have the testimony of Christ Himself who was a prophet confirmed by miracles and by His own resurrection from the dead. Christ affirmed that the Patriarch’s were real persons and not ideals or inventions. They are, in fact, included in His genealogies (Matthew 1:2-16, Luke 3:23-38). Christ, in affirming who He was to the Pharisee Nicodemus (an “expert” in the Torah), used a passage in the Torah to validate His person and ministry. Christ said, “Just as Moses [actually – historically] lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must [actually-historically] be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14).  Here, Christ spoke of an event recorded in the Torah, in the book of Numbers 21:8-9.  That event was the wandering of the Israelites in the desert wilderness, an actual historical event that would be used as an illustration of faith. The wilderness wandering and the sending of the serpents to kill the Israelites in the desert was an historical event which Nicodemus should have known about. Perhaps Nicodemus did know about it, but the theological meaning escaped him. Nevertheless, Jesus told him,  “I spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”(John 3:12).

Throughout the pages of the Gospels no-where does Christ refer to the biblical Patriarchs, Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses as anything but actual historical persons. It is possible Christ was deluded or that He was just following the “traditions” of Judaism in the first-century, but this is highly unlikely. Christ even connected the future [actual] judgment of the world with the biblical patriarch Noah. In the Olivet Discourse Christ said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…” (Matt. 24:37-9). The passage and the message would not make hermeneutical sense if the referent (i.e. Noah) is anything but historical. It would have no force or weight if the Noah to which Christ referred was an “ideal” or an “invention” by a people to give them legitimacy.

Did not Jesus Himself rebuke His disciples for not believing the Old Testament?

He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Like the disciples, we are too are slow to believe all that Moses and the prophets have spoken.

Why is defending the historical existence of Israel as she is portrayed in the Old Testament important? Because the very integrity of the Scripture is at stake.

[1] James K. Hoffmeier, Israel In Egypt: Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press), 3.

[2] This statement is not entirely true. There are a small number of biblical scholars who are conducting research and defending the historicity of Ancient Israel and the Old Testament Patriarchs: such as evangelical archaeologist Bryant Wood,  Egyptologists, Kenneth Kitchen and James K. Hoffmeier as well as Dr. J. Randall Price, John Currid and Gleason Archer. However, their work remains virtually unknown and unappreciated by many evangelicals and politely ignored by the larger community of academics in Near Eastern archaeology.

An Atheist Asks About Morality, Cosmology and Hell

At the University of Dallas last month, a polite atheist (Carter) had four major questions/objections to my “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” presentation.  Our nine minute exchange covered the following questions/objections:

  1. Your moral law argument is offensive because by it you are asserting that atheists can’t be moral.
  2. Why are you assuming that God is the cause of the universe?  Couldn’t something in another dimension cause the universe?
  3. Why do we have to worship the cause of the universe?
  4. If we don’t worship the cause of the universe, God will send us to Hell.  So we really don’t have a choice.

Read more

What Really Happened at Nicea?

For many years, the council of Nicea has been the subject of much confusion among laypeople. The misapprehensions which have come to be associated with the council of Nicea have, in part, been fuelled by popular fictional novels such as Dan Brown’s notorious The Da vinci Code. No matter what group you are dealing with in your apologetic exploits (including atheists, Muslims, Jehovah’s witnesses and unitarians), you are almost guaranteed to encounter some of these misconcepts. For this reason, it is important for Christians to study and learn church history, so that they might correct common myths and falsehoods.

The council of Nicea was famously convened on May 20, 325 AD, at the request of Emperor Constantine. What did the council of bishops meet to discuss? Contrary to common misconception (popularised particularly in Muslim circles) that has been widely circulated via the internet, the council of Nicea did not meet to discuss the canon of Scripture — that is, the decision about which books should make up the New Testament. In fact, there is not a shred of evidence that the canon of Scripture was even brought up at Nicea. Another misconception is that the council of Nicea, at the encouraging of Constantine, “invented” the deity of Christ or, at the very least, that the bishops in attendance at Nicea were significantly divided on the issue, the matter being decided with a vote. This too, however, is completely inaccurate. In 325 AD, when the bishops convened at Nicea, the deity of Christ had been affirmed almost unanimously by the Christian movement for close to three hundred years!

The bishops who met at Nicea had just come out of an extremely challenging time of intense persecution by the Romans, having lived through the cruelty of the Emperors Diocletian (ruling 284-305) and Maximian (ruling 286-305). One of the bishops present at Nicea, Paphnutius, had even lost his right eye and been given a limp in his left leg as a consequence of his profession of faith. According to one ancient writer, Theodoret (393-457),

“Paul, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. Among these was Paphnutius of Egypt. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs.”

It strikes me as odd, therefore, that one would suppose that the early Christian movement, having come out of such difficult times as those, would capitulate so easily to the emperor Constantine’s demands with respect to defining the very fundamentals of their faith!

The story of the Nicean council begins in Alexandria in northwest Egypt. The archbishop of Alexandria was a man by the name of Alexander. A member of his senior clergy, called Arius, took issue with Alexander’s view of Jesus’s divine nature, insisting that the Son is, in fact, himself a created being. In similar fashion to modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arius maintained that Jesus was like the Father inasmuch as they both existed before creation, played a role in creation and were exalted above it. But the Son, according to the theology of Arius, was the first of God’s creations and was commissioned by the Father to create the world.

On this point, Alexander strongly disagreed, and publically challenged Arius’s heretical teachings. In 318 AD, Alexander called together a hundred or so bishops to talk over the matter and to defrock Arius. Arius, however, went to Nicomedia in Asia Minor and rallied his supporters, including Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was a relative by marriage to Constantine the emperor, and a theologian in the imperial court. Eusebius and Arius wrote to many bishops who had not been involved in the defrocking of Arius. The effect was the creation of divisions among the bishops. Embarassed by such bickering, the emperor Constantine convened the ecumenical council of Nicea in 325.

Constantine’s primary concern was imperial unity rather than theological accuracy, and he desired a decision that would be supported by the greatest number of bishops, regardless of what conclusion was reached. His theological advisor, Hosius, served to get the emperor up to speed before the arrival of the bishops. Since Arius was not a bishop, he was not invited to sit on the council. However, his supporter Eusebius of Nicomedia acted on Arius’s behalf and presented his point of view.

Arius’s position regarding the finite nature of the Son was not popular with the bishops. It became clear, however, that a formal statement concerning the nature of the Son and his relationship to the Father was needed. The real issue at the council of Nicea was thus how, and not if, Jesus was divine.

A formal statement was eventually put together and signed by the bishops. Those who declined to sign the statement were stripped of their rank of bishop. The few who supported Arius insisted that only language found in Scripture should feature in the statement, whereas Arius’s critics insisted that only non-Biblical language was adequate to fully unpack the implications of the language found in the Bible. It was Constantine who eventually suggested that the Father and Son be said to be of the “same substance” (homoousios in Greek). Although Constantine hoped that this statement would keep all parties happy (implying the complete deity of Jesus without going much further), the supporters of Arius insisted that this language suggested that the Father and Son were equal but didn’t explain how this was compatible with the central tenet of monotheism (i.e. the belief in only one deity).

Nonetheless, the Nicean creed did indeed incorporate this language. It stated,

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, ‘There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, ir is subject to alteration or change — these the Catholic Church anathematizes.”

With the exception of two (Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarcia), the creed was signed by all the bishops, numbering more than 300. Arius’s supporters had been overwhelmingly defeated.

Arius’s supporters, however, managed to find some wiggle room. A single letter iota changes the meaning of homo (“same”) to “like” (homoi). The latter could be exploited by Arius and his followers to describe a created Christ. Moreover, it was argued, the creed could be interpreted as supporting Sabellianism, an ancient heresy which fails to discriminate between persons of the godhead. It was this in-house squabbling between bishops that ultimately led to the council of Constantinople in 381.

A company of bishops started to campaign for the formal re-instatement of Arius as a presbyter in Alexandria. Constantine yielded to their petition and, in 332, re-instated Arius as a presbyter. Athenasius, who had recently succeeded his mentor Alexander as bishop of Alexandria, was instructed to accept Arius into the church once again. Needless to say, Athenasius did not comply with this order. The consequence was exile. Constantine had little interest in the precision of his theology — rather, it was the struggle for imperial unity that was his motivation.

In conclusion, although popular misconceptions about the council of Nicea are rampant, the idea that the council of Nicea determined which books comprised the new testament or that it invented the deity of Christ to comply with the demands of Constantine are myths. Indeed, correct theology was of little concern to Constantine, who cared much more about imperial unity. Christians must make a serious effort to study and learn church history, so that when we encounter such claims in the media and in our personal evangelism, we may know how to present an accurate account of our history.

Who is the Angel of the Lord?

Throughout the Old Testament, we routinely encounter the mysterious character who goes by the title “The angel of the Lord.” By looking at the numerous appearances of this individual, we can piece together clues as to His identity. The first time the angel of the Lord is introduced, he makes an appearance to Hagar, the servant of Abraham’s wife Sarai. In Genesis 16:7-13, we read,

7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.

13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

What is of particular interest here is that the angel of the Lord speaks as though He is distinct from Yahweh yet also presumes Himself to be the very mouthpiece of God. In fact, he speaks in the first person and says “I will increase your descendants.” This is very peculiar. What’s more, in verse 13, Hagar identifies the Angel of the Lord as “the God who sees me.”

The second time we encounter the Angel of the Lord, He again speaks to Hagar regarding her Son Ishmael. In Genesis 21:17-18, we read,

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Notice that again, in verse 18, the angel of the Lord speaks using the first person (“…for I will make him into a great nation”), thus making Himself the very mouthpiece of God.

The third occasion on we encounter the angel of the Lord is the incident involving Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. Just as Abraham is about to offer up his Son Isaac as a sacrifice unto the Lord, we read in Genesis 22:11-18,

11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Again, the angel of the Lord uses the first person and assumes Himself to be none other than God Himself. In verse 12, he states, “you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” The angel also claims to be the one who gave Abraham the instruction to sacrifice his Son Isaac (verse 18) and that “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”

The fourth occasion on which we encounter the angel of the Lord is in Genesis 32, in which Jacob famously wrestles with God. In verses 1 and 2, we are told,

“Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.” In verses 22-31, we read,

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

In this passage, Jacob names the place Peniel, saying that it was “because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.” Hosea 12:4-5 also identifies the angel in this scene as the “Lord God Almighty.”
The fifth time we meet the angel of the Lord is the Burning Bush appearance to Moses in Exodus 3. In verses 1-6, we read,

1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Curiously, on this occasion, “the angel of the Lord” and “God” are used interchangably. The angel of the Lord here describes Himself as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

The angel of the Lord also appears to Balaam (Numbers 22) and, in similar fashion, to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15). We also encounter the angel of the Lord four times in the book of Judges. In Judges 2:1-4, we read,

1 The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” 4 When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.

Remarkably, the angel of the Lord here identifies Himself as the one who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and led them into the promised land. Furthermore, the angel of the Lord identifies Himself as the one who made a covenant with the people of Israel — one which He will never break.

In Judges 6:11-24, we again encounter the angel of the Lord. We read,

11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”

23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Again, the angel of the Lord is identified as none other than “the Lord” Himself (verses 14, 16, 23, 25, 27). In fact, Gideon asks for a sign to confirm that it really is God who is speaking to him. Gideon prepares a sacrifice and God consumes it by bringing fire from the rock. What’s remarkable is that it is only God who is to be worshipped in this manner. When Gideon sees the fire from the rock, he is terrified. He recognises the implications of having seen God face-to-face (see Exodus 33:20), but he is re-assured that he is “not going to die.”

Judges 13:2-25 is the most remarkable of the appearances of the angel of the Lord. The passage reads,

1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.

2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. 3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, ‘You will become pregnant and have a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from the womb until the day of his death.’”

8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!”

11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, “Are you the man who talked to my wife?”

“I am,” he said.

12 So Manoah asked him, “When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule that governs the boy’s life and work?”

13 The angel of the LORD answered, “Your wife must do all that I have told her. 14 She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.”

15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”

16 The angel of the LORD replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.)

17 Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”

18 He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” 19 Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the LORD. And the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: 20 As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. 21 When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.

22 “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”

23 But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”

24 The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, 25 and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Manoah is instructed in verse 16 to make his offering to the Lord. The reason given is that “Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.” Manoah needed this explanation because he was going to offer this to the man, but did not even regard him as an angel, let alone the Lord Himself. Verses 17 -18 remind us of the wrestling match between the angel of the Lord and Jacob back in Genesis 32, in which the angel declines to give His name, instead saying, “Why do you ask my name?” The statement given in verse 18 of Judges 13 (“it is beyond understanding”) has also been rendered “it is Wonderful.” This bears a striking resemblance to Isaiah 9:6, in which one of the names given to the promised incarnate divine Messiah is “Wonderful.” When Manoah and his wife make an offering to the Lord, the angel of the Lord ascends in the flame. This reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ who, being God incarnate, was made a sacrifice unto the Father. The ascension of the angel of the Lord in the flame which rises from the burnt offering on the alter carries much symbolic significance and undoubtedly represents the coming sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin.

Like those who had encountered the angel of the Lord before them, Manoah and his wife are fearful for their lives, as they recognise the implications of having seen God face-to-face.

In summary, we have seen that:

  • The angel of the Lord is repeatedly identified as God.
  • The angel of the Lord performes miraculous signs.
  • People expect to die after having encountered the angel of the Lord face-to-face, but none of them actually do die.
  • The name of the angel of the Lord is “wonderful”.

So, to conclude our discussion, who is the angel of the Lord? As we read all of those accounts and piece together the consilience of clues, it becomes evident that the angel of the Lord is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ Himself. This makes sense in the context of the apostle John’s description of Christ as “the word” of God (see John 1:1). Moreover, as John’s gospel explains in 1: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” And as Hebrews 1:3 declares, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Christ describes Himself as the mouthpiece of God on earth and the revelation to mankind of what God is like (see Matthew 11:27). In fact, all that Jesus is and does interprets and explains who God is and what He does (see John 14:8-10).

Furthermore, it is the angel of the Lord who gives the command for the filthy rags to be taken off Joshua in Zechariah 3, and for him to be clothed in fine garments. The immediate context indicates that this is intended to symbolise the restoration of the priesthood of Israel. The text also symbolises, however, Christ clothing us with the garments of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

The angel of the Lord represents a christophany — a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus Christ. It also adds yet another example to the powerful and compelling cumulative case from the Bible’s remarkable internal coherence and interconnectedness — a phenomenon which can surely only be explained by the Bible’s divine origin.

Did They Really Exist? A Biblical and Scientific Defence of Adam and Eve

The historicity of Adam and Eve is a question which strikes at the heart of the Christian faith. If the primordial pair did not exist, then the historical and Biblical doctrine of the fall becomes extremely difficult to maintain. The apostle Paul clearly linked God’s redemptive plan and Christ’s atonement for sin with the fall described in Genesis (e.g. see Romans 5:12-21). We read in Romans 5:12-14,

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, we similarly read,

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Further evidence that Paul took Adam as a literal historical figure can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 where he appeals to this doctrine in order to make an argument concerning the role of women in the church with respect to men. Paul writes,

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Indeed, Jesus Himself clearly understood Adam and Eve to have been historical figures. In response to questioning from the Pharisees about marriage and divorce, Jesus declared (Matthew 19:4-6),

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the genealogies recorded in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as an historical figure. The literature associated with second temple Judaism also recognised Adam as an historical individual. The context and genre of the book of Genesis does not give any indication whatsoever that it is intended to be non-literal or ahistorical in the sense that much of apocalyptic literature (e.g. the book of Revelation) is. If we read the book of Genesis as metaphorical, at which point do we stop? The life of Abraham (to whom we are first introduced in Genesis 12) is clearly connected to the history that came before him, going all the way back to Adam. Those who discard Genesis 1-11 as metaphorical but understand Genesis 12 onwards to be historical are being inconsistent. The narrative simply does not allow for this interpretation.

Christians may have disagreements about peripheral matters such as the age of the earth. As I have discussed before, I don’t think that Genesis commits one to accepting a young earth position. However, the historical existence of Adam and Eve is another matter — it is a Gospel issue. Without an historical Adam and Eve, and without an historical fall, the doctrine of the atonement and redemption makes very little sense.

Having presented some Biblical reasons for thinking that Adam and Eve were literal historical individuals, I want to turn my attention to some of the common scientific arguments which are advanced against the notion of an historical Adam and Eve.

Minimum Effective Population Size

It is argued by many that coalescence theory and analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms/linkage disequilibrium (SNP/LD) show that the mean effective population size for the hominid lineage is 100,000 individuals over the course of the last 30 million years. According to some theories, a genetic bottleneck occurred in the hominid lineage during the Middle Pleistocene with, according to one recent study, a mean effective population size of only 14,000 individuals. A range of values for the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) is given as “450,000-2,400,000 years for the autosomes, and 380,000-2,000,000 for the X chromosome,” (Blum and Jakobsson, 2011).

The trouble with such attempts to estimate the effective population size and times of most recent common ancestors is the number of simplifying assumptions which are involved in the calculation. These include:

  • Fixed population size.
  • No migration.
  • Random mating.
  • Non-overlapping generations.
  • Constant mutation rates.
  • No selection.

The problem is that human populations change in size, migration in and out of the population does occur, humans selectively mate, mutation rates are often not constant and selection does occur. Indeed, rates of recombination are also known to differ with respect to location on the chromosome. Attempts at estimating effective population sizes and coalescent times, therefore, are rendered difficult by their high dependency on the assumptions made and the constancy of the pertinent variables. This makes it extremely hard to make dogmatic claims in this regard.

Let’s take an example to illustrate this point. One research paper examined 377 short tandem repeat (STR) loci pertinent to 1,056 individuals from 52 different populations (Zhivotovsky et al., 2003). The study inferred that modern humanity arose from a common ancestral population living between 71 and 142 thousand years ago from a relatively small population size (less than 2000 individuals). A previous study estimated this ancestral population size to be comprised roughly of 500 individuals (Zhivotovsky et al., 2000). This non-congruity was apparently resultant from use of varying number of loci by the two studies as well as use of different sample sizes.

The Y-Chromosomal Adam Paradox

It is widely known that molecular dating based on the male-specific Y-chromosomal DNA tends to give somewhat more recent dates for the most recent common ancestosr of modern humans than does molecular dating based on the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA. This has been argued by some to show that Adam and Eve lived tends of thousands of years apart from one another. Though there are obviously alternative explanations for this phenomenon, one interesting hypothesis relates to the genetic bottleneck pertinent to the great flood described in Genesis. In that case, the most recent male common ancestor would be Noah (Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth boarded the ark along with their respective wives). The most recent female common ancestor, however, would be Eve. This would quite readily account for the discrepancy between the data yielded from the Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA sequences.

Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

The first thing to take notice of is that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters besides Cain, Abel and Seth. According to Genesis 5:4, “After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” It is also noteworthy that Genesis 5 records very long life spans, with people living up to an age of 900 years. Given this, Dr. Hugh Ross argues that “the possibility existed for a veritable population explosion. In fact, the world’s population could have approached a few billion by the time of Adam’s death at the age of 930.” There is some Biblical support for thinking that there was a reasonable population size following Cain’s murder of Abel. According to Genesis 4, Cain is given a mark “so that no one who found him would kill him.” This presupposes that there was a population size sufficient such that (a) there were people who might find Cain in the wilderness; and (b) Cain might be mistaken for someone else.

The possibility that Cain may have married his sister raises the old question of incest. It is not until the book of Leviticus, however, that laws are given against marriage between siblings. Adam and Eve were probably created genetically pure. It is, therefore, likely that the genetic defects resulting from marriage between siblings would not present an issue for the first couple of dozen generations.

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, attempts to estimate coalescent times and effective population sizes are fraught with problems, and require that we make a number of unrealistic assumptions. Perhaps it is possible that some of these estimates pertain to the human population sometime after the creation of Adam and Eve. The question of Cain’s wife is effectively resolved if we suppose that genetic defects resulting from marriage between siblings was a later development. The existence of an historical Adam and Eve, however, is foundational to a full and proper understanding of the Gospel and Christ’s role as the “second Adam”. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Did Jesus Deny His Deity in His Conversation with the Rich Ruler?

In Luke 18:18-29 (and the parallel account in Mark 10:17-31), we read the narrative of the rich young ruler coming to Jesus and asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by saying “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”

Jesus continues, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.” The young man replies, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus, however, knowing that he valued his wealth and riches more than God, instructs the man to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then to come and follow Jesus. At this, the man walks away greatly saddened because he has no interest in giving up his wealth.

Many of those who seek to deny the deity of Christ (such as Muslims) will often appeal to this passage as an example of Jesus allegedly renouncing his deity. Is this the case, however? Was Jesus really denying that He is God in stating, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”The first important thing to notice is that Jesus Himself claims not only to be “good” but also to be perfect and completely without sin. Consider, for example, John 10:11 (“I am the good shepherd”) or John 8:46 (“Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”). We are also told by Paul that Jesus was without sin, for example in 2 Corinthians 5:21 (“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”). Thus, this situation with the rich young ruler is actually an affirmation of Jesus’ deity. The argument may be summarised in syllogistic form as follows:

Premise 1: According to Jesus, God alone is good.

Premise 2: According to Jesus, Jesus is good.

Conclusion: Therefore, according to Jesus, Jesus is God.

So what is going on in this incident with the rich young ruler? Jesus, I believe, is teasing out the implications of the young man’s statement. It is a rhetorical question designed to make the man thing long and hard about Jesus’ true identity.

Those who use this example as a proof text for justifying their denial of the deity of Jesus need to allow all of Scripture speak, and read the passages they quote in the context within which they appear. When one handles the text of Scripture honestly and responsibly in this regard, the true identity of Jesus becomes very clear: He is the eternal Son of God, and the second person of the Trinity.

The Trinity Defended

The doctrine of the Trinity has come under increasing attack over recent years from a variety of groups. Some of these groups (such as Muslims and Jehovah’s witnesses) deny that this doctrine is even found in Scripture. They are often quick to point out that the word “trinity” is to be found nowhere in the Bible. This is correct. While the phraseology is not found in Scripture, however, the concept most certainly is.

In this article, I want to provide a definition of this important doctrine, explaining what exactly the Trinity is, as well as what is isn’t. I shall then examine the Scriptures to see whether they provide adequate substantiation of this concept.

So, what exactly do we mean when we talk about the Trinity? Writing in the early third century, in his Against Praxeas, Tertullian is credited with first employing the words “Trinity”, “person” and “substance” to convey the idea of the Father, Son and Spirit being “one in essence — but not one in person”. Indeed, Tertullian writes,

“Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are, one essence, not one Person, as it is said, “I and my Father are One,” in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.”

This concept was established as church orthodoxy at the famous Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The Nicene Creed speaks of Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

It is this definition that I am going to assume in the discussion that follows. Succinctly, then, the doctrine of the Trinity may be defined thusly: Within the one being or essence that is God, there exists three co-equal and co-divine distinct persons — namely the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who share that essence fully and completely. This concept is not to be confused with polytheism, which maintains that there are multiple gods. While orthodox Christianity emphatically holds there to be only one God, we nonetheless understand God to be complex in his unity. The concept is also not to be confused with the ancient heresy of modalism, which maintains that God exists in three different modes. The Son has never been the Father and the Holy Spirit has never been the Son or the Father. Modalism is refuted by the picture given to us in all four gospels (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) in which the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice is heard from Heaven “This is my beloved Son. With him I am well pleased.” Similarly, it should be noted that the Father, Son and Spirit do not each make up merely a third of the Godhead. Rather, each of the three persons is God in the full and complete sense of the word.

Having shown that Scripture emphatically rejects the notion that the Father, Son and Spirit are synonymous persons, only five propositions remain to be demonstrated in order to provide Biblical substantiation for the concept of the Trinity. Those propositions are:

  1. There is only one eternal God.
  2. The Father is the eternal God.
  3. The Son is the eternal God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the eternal God.
  5. Although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are non-synonymous persons, the concept of the Trinity does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

The Bible Teaches Monotheism

The Biblical support for monotheism is extremely strong, and supporting references are far too numerous to list here. Nonetheless, let us content ourselves with a few examples.

Deuteronomy 6:4:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Isaiah 43:10-11:

10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the LORD,
and apart from me there is no savior.

Isaiah 44:6-8:

6 “This is what the LORD says—
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God.
7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people,
and what is yet to come—
yes, let them foretell what will come.
8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?
You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

1 Corinthians 8:6

Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Isaiah 45:5

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me.

The Deity of the Father

This is the least controversial of the five points, and many of the verses cited above would suffice to demonstrate it. Indeed, in the high priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus, recorded in John 17, Jesus says to the Father (verse 5), “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The Father is similarly referred to as God in John 3:16, in which we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

One could continue in this vein for some time. But since nobody is denying this contention, let us move on to consider the Biblical support for the perfect and complete deity of Christ.

The Deity of the Son

The Biblical support for the perfect and complete deity of Christ is similarly very strong. For example, Phillipians 2:5-11 states,

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

According to Jude 1:4,

For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Titus 2:13 similarly states that we…

…wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter similarly addresses his second epistle (2 Peter 1:1) to…

…those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.

Colossians 1:15-20 speaks of Jesus thusly:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

The passage uses the word “firstborn” in this context in the sense that Christ is the heir and all things are His rightful inheritance, not in the sense that he is himself a created being.

Colossians 2:9 similarly asserts that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

Even in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 9:6-7, we read,

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Citation of this passage is sometimes countered by claiming that the passage distinguishes between the “Mighty God” and the “LORD Almighty.” Such an objection is easily refuted, however, when one looks at Isaiah 10:21 and finds the title “Mighty God” being ascribed to Yahweh.

There are many more such references as well. When cultists come to your door, however, they will often attempt to find some wiggle room by crafty manipulations of the Greek. If (like me) you are not well acquainted with Greek, and are thus not competent in demonstrating their abuse of it, this can be quite daunting. There is, however, a means by which you can circumvent such discussions and still persuasively defend the deity of Christ. It is to this that I now turn.

There are numerous occasions in Scripture where titles that are ascribed to Yahweh are also attributed to Christ. One example of this is the title of “the alpha and the omega” or “the first and the last.” This title is ascribed to Yahweh in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12, as well as in Revelation 1:8. It is attributed to Jesus, however, in Revelation 1:17-18. It is very clear from the context that it is Jesus who is speaking because he subsequently says, “I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Similarly, Revelation 2:8, in the letter to the Church in Smyrna, says “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” This title is also attributed to Jesus in Revelation 21:6, as well as in 22:13. Verse 16 of Revelation 22 makes it very clear that it is Jesus speaking, for he says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

A further example is the “I AM” title which Jesus ascribes to Himself in John 8:58 (“before Abraham was born, I am!”). The Greek (ego eimi) uses the very same phraseology used in the Septuagint in reference to Yahweh (e.g. Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10). Indeed, the soldiers who come to arrest Jesus in John 18 draw back and fall to the ground upon the very utterance of the words “I AM” from Jesus’ lips. This highlights the theological significance of this phrase. The Jews in John 8 certainly understood what He meant, for they picked up stones to stone Him.

Another self-designation of Jesus in the New Testament is the famous “Son of Man” title, a clear reference to Daniel 7:13-14, in which we read the following:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Here, Daniel describes a divine-human figure who would be given authority, glory and sovereign power, and would be worshipped by people of all nations and people of every language. When Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man before the high priest Caiaphas (Matthew 26:64-66), Caiaphas tore his clothes, charged him with blasphemy, and condemned him as “worthy of death.” The reason? Caiaphas new exactly what that title meant — it was a direct claim to deity, a crime punishable by death.

What’s particularly telling about this claim is that the Son of Man is worshipped by all people. Yet worship is to be given only to Yahweh, as we learn in Deuternonomy 6:13. This verse is quoted by Jesus during his temptation in the desert. In Luke 4:8, Jesus rebukes Satan, saying, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Furthermore, Isaiah 42:8 says,

I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.

This leads us to consider yet another of Jesus’ sayings. In John 17:5, Jesus says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” In addition to his claim to pre-exist creation, Jesus here is also claiming to share the glory of the Father.

John 20:28 reports an incident where, following Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas — upon seeing the nailprints in His hands and feet — worships him calling Him “My Lord and my God!” Jesus nowhere rebukes this act of worship. This stands in contrast to when John fell at the feet of an angel and tried to worship him (Revelation 22:8-9) and was strongly rebuked: “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” See Daniel Rodgers’ article here for a rebuttal to some of the common objections to this verse.

We also read in Hebrews 1:6, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Hebrews 1 contrasts the relationship between the Father and the angels with the relationship between the Father and the Son. In verses 7-12, we read the following:

7 In speaking of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”

8 But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

10 He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”

The writer of Hebrews here quotes two Old Testament passages (Psalm 45:6-7 and Psalm 102:25-27 respectively), both of which clearly refer to Yahweh, and applies them to Jesus.

One final example I will consider is found in John 12:37-41:

37Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

Here, John quotes two passages from the Old Testament and asserts that Isaiah said these things when he saw the glory of Jesus. The first of these passages is from the famous suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53. The second of those refers to Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah beheld the glory of Yahweh seated on his throne in the temple.

Again, in this vein one might continue for a long time. But let us now turn our attention to the status of the Holy Spirit.

The Deity of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is another doctrine which has come under attack, with some groups (e.g. the Jehovah’s witnesses) denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit and asserting instead that it is merely an impersonal active force. In this section, I aim to demonstrate that this view is untenable and contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.

One very clear reference to the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit occurs in Acts 5:1-10, in which Ananias and Sapphira are charged with lying to the Holy Spirit and struck down dead as a consequence. Peter rebukes Ananias, saying, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” Here, not only does the personhood of the Holy Spirit become apparent (one cannot lie to an impersonal entity), but the Holy Spirit is also equated with God Himself.

Another example lies in Acts 13:1-2, in which the Holy Spirit speaks and calls out Paul and Barnabas, sending them out for the work ordained for them. In this passage, the Holy Spirit clearly assumes divine authority. We read,

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

A further passage we might look to is Ephesians 4:30, in which we are instructed “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Here, the Holy Spirit displays attributes of personhood — one cannot grieve an impersonal force.

The Holy Spirit is endowed with a will in 1 Corinthians 12:11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 also ascribes knowledge to the Holy Spirit:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Mark 3:29 indicates that it is even possible to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit! Only God is able to be blasphemed.

Psalm 139:7-10 also indicates that the Spirit of God is omnipresent:

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

We also learn in Hebrews 9:14 that the Holy Spirit is eternal (“Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God”).

Does the doctrine of the Trinity violate the law of non-contradiction?

Some attempt to argue against the Trinity by asserting that the concept is in violation of the law of non-contradiction. How can God, they ask, be both one and three at the same time? The law of non-contradiction asserts that something cannot be ‘a’ and ‘non-a’ at the same time and in the same sense. I do not think the Trinity violates this principle, however, since the doctrine maintains that God is one in a sense and three in a different sense. He is one in substance or essence but not one in person. Indeed, many would argue that, in fact, a multiplicity within the Godhead is the only way in which God’s love can be an eternal attribute (within a monadic concept of God, to whom did God show affection before creation?).

Handling Objections

Most of the objections to the concept of the Trinity stem from a misunderstanding thereof. Some point to instances where the Son is described as subordinate to the Father (e.g. John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 15:28). It is, however, both correct and consistent with the Trinity that there exists a subordination within the Godhead. Just as a wife submits to her husband (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1), so the Son submits to the Father.

Another objection maintains that the Trinity is never alluded to in the Old Testament. However, this is incorrect. For one thing, God often speaks with reference to Himself using pronouns such as “we” and “us”. There are also numerous preincarnation appearances of Christ (Christophanies), and the coming Messiah is predicted on numerous occasions. The Son of God receives mention in several places, such as in Proverbs 30:4, in which we read:

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
Surely you know!

The Spirit also features in the Old Testament. For example, Genesis 1:2 says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Conclusion

To conclude, the concept of the Trinity — the proposition that God, though being one in essence, is comprised of three divine persons — is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. The Bible attests to the complete and perfect deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Though the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct and non-synonymous, the doctrine does not violate the law of non-contradiction since theology concerning the Trinity maintains that God is one in a sense and three in a different sense. Christians can thus confidently assert and defend the Triune nature of God, a doctrine extremely unlikely to have arisen as a human invention in the context of monotheistic Judaism.

Cherry Picking the Bible? Are Christians Expected to Follow the Levitical Laws?

I recently posted an article on this blog wherein I outlined my viewpoint with regards same sex marriage and some of my reasons for holding to that position. Now, my views on this issue fall into two categories — theological and sociological. While I think that there are good sociological arguments against the institution of same sex marriage (the focus of my previous post), I also hold that homosexual behaviour is immoral for theological reasons. The Biblical basis for this view comes from a number of Scriptural passages. Among them, is Leviticus 18, a chapter concerned exclusively with sexual sin. Verse 22 commands, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Mention of this passage routinely raises the objection, “But aren’t you cherry picking the Bible? After all, you don’t follow all those laws in Leviticus either. Do you refrain from wearing clothing woven from two kinds of material as prohibited in Leviticus 19:19? And do you obey the dietary laws outlined in Leviticus 11?” I get this objection put to me so often that I felt compelled to write a blog post addressing it. I trust that those who make this kind of objection will find this post informative.

The Three-Fold Division of the Law

The Levitical law may be subdivided into three categories: These are,

1. Ceremonial Law

2. Judicial / Civil Law

3. Moral Law

This three-fold division is by no means a modern idea invented to dodge around popular objections to the Biblical stance on homosexuality and other sins. Indeed, John Calvin (1509-1564), in The Institutes of the Christian Religion wrote, “We must attend to the well-known division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law.” Furthermore, in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Francis Turretin (1623-1687), one of Calvin’s successors at Geneva, wrote that “The law given by Moses is usually distinguished into three species: moral (treating of morals or of perpetual duties towards God and our neighbour); ceremonial (of the ceremonies or rites about the sacred things to be observed under the Old Testament); and civil (constituting the civil government of the Israelite people).” The three-fold division of the law is also alluded to in the 1689 Baptist confession.

But the concept dates back even further still. In his Summa Theologica, the theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writes,

“We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. ‘moral’ precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; ‘ceremonial’ precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and ‘judicial’ precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men.”

 Even Augustine (354-450), in his Contra Faustum Manichaeum, writes,

“For example, ‘Thou shalt not covet’ is a moral precept; ‘Thou shalt circumcise every male on the eighth day’ is a symbolical precept.”

It is clear from the context that Augustine is here using the word “symbolic” to describe what we would today regard as “ceremonial”.

This multi-faceted nature of the law has also been recognised by the likes of Tertullian (160-220) and Justin Martyr (103-165).

What is Ceremonial Law?

The Israelites have long been God’s chosen people — the people from whom he would bring the ultimate Saviour who would bless all nations and bring Salvation to the ends of the world. As God’s chosen people, Israel was given various ceremonial regulations in order to separate her from the surrounding gentile nations. This included the practice of circumcision. In Genesis 17, God says to Abraham,

“As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

This was the covenant of circumcision, which was intended to separate the people of Israel from her gentile neighbours. There were many other ceremonial laws as well, and this included things like dietary regulations (e.g. don’t eat shell fish) and regulations of cleanliness.

What is Judicial / Civil Law?

The judicial / civil law pertains to those laws which are culturally specific to ancient Israel. Laws falling into this category included penalties for various crimes, rules for business transactions and guidelines for the treatment of servants and slaves.

What is Moral Law?

The moral law describes God’s commandments which are binding regardless of cultural contingencies. The moral law includes the ten commandments, which are given in Exodus 20. According to the Bible, we have an awareness of God’s moral laws written on our hearts (e.g. Romans 2) but we have all violated this standard and thus fall under the righteousness condemnation of God (Romans 3:23). Galatians 3:13-14 describes God’s solution:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Christ, then, satisfied the justice and wrath of God that we deserved by standing in our lawplace condemned in our place. He bore the full force of the wrath of God that should have been borne by us because of our sin, meaning that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law by repenting of our sin, ceasing to trust in our own goodness and meritorious self-righteousness for our salvation and trusting in the completed work of Christ.

Which of Those Laws is Applicable to Us Today?

Only God’s moral law is applicable to us today. The ceremonial and judicial laws of ancient Israel are not. Galatians 2:1-3; 5:1-11; 6:11-16; 1 Corinthians 7:17-20; Colossians 2:8-12; Phillipians 3:1-3 all indicate that the covenant of circumcision has now been done away with. What counts now is, in a manner of speaking, a circumcision of heart — which takes the form of faith in Christ and repentance from our sin.

In Acts 10, we read of Peter’s vision:

 9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Peter’s vision suggests that the dietary requirements of the ceremonial law are now no longer applicable.

Furthermore, Hebrews 10:1 says that “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” Colossians 2:16-17 likewise says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Now the one to whom the law pointed — Christ the Messiah — has come and fulfilled the symbolism associated with the ceremonial law.

Anticipating an Objection: But Couldn’t The Sexual Regulations of Leviticus 18 Be Regarded As Ceremonial Law Too?

One can anticipate an objection to all of this: This being the case, the skeptic might ask, how can you with confidence say that homosexuality comes under God’s (non-culturally-contingent) universal moral prohibitions? How can one rule out that these sexual regulations (described in Leviticus 18) are not also part of the ceremonial law? In response to this, I would urge that the objector examine carefully the context.

Leviticus 18 begins with God saying to Moses,

“2 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.”

After listing the various forms of sexual sin, the chapter ends,

“24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.”

It is thus abundantly clear from the context that the chapter is describing universal moral prohibitions. Indeed, it is violation of those prohibitions that has led God to punish and drive out the nations before Israel. God gives Israel a warning about what will happen to her if she falls into the practices of the nations before her.

Furthermore, God’s prohibitions against homosexual behaviour are reiterated in the new testament. In Romans 1, the apostle Paul writes,

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 also describe the abomination of sexual immorality, and Paul urges the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5 to expell an immoral brother for sleeping with his father’s wife. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 also says,

“9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

There is thus little room for argument about what division of the law is in mind here.

Summary & Conclusion

In summary, there exists a three-fold division of the law — ceremonial, judicial/civil and moral. The civil and ceremonial law are no longer applicable to us today, while the moral law — which is not culturally contingent — is indeed universally binding. We have all violated God’s righteous decree and are thus guilty before a holy and just God. Because of God’s justice, He cannot turn a blind eye to sin: He must come against it with perfect justice. But God has provided a way for us to be redeemed from the curse of the law by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, meaning that if we put our faith (trust) in Him for salvation and repent of our previous ways, we may not perish but have everlasting life in Him.

Jesus Foreshadowed By Joshua The High Priest

Previously on this blog, I have highlighted the types and foreshadows of Christ which are found in the Old Testament Scriptures with respect to the Abraham affair and the Passover celebration. In this post, I want to consider yet another remarkable Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ, this time from the book of Zechariah. Let’s take a look at the sixth chapter in this prophetic book:

9 The word of the LORD came to me: 10 “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 11 Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. 12 Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’ 14 The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the LORD. 15 Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the LORD, and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the LORD your God.”

The first curious thing to notice of in this passage is the significance of the character names. The name “Joshua” is translated from the Hebrew “Yehoshua” — which is the same name that is translated “Iesous” in the Greek Septuagint. In our English New Testament Bibles, the name “Iesous” is translated “Jesus”. We would also do well to take note of the name of Joshua’s father — Jehozadek. The name literally means “Jehovah Righteousness” (readers may recall the translation of the name of Melchizedek as “King of Righteousness”). Isn’t it a curious set of coincidences that not only is the one who would be explicitly said to be prototypic of the coming Messiah given the name “Jesus”, but his father bears the name “Jehovah Righteousness”?

As an aside, very similar coincidences are to be found toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in which — in chapter 34 — Moses dies on Mount Nebo, and is not able to lead God’s people into the promised land. Instead, it is a man by the name of Joshua (not the same one as above) that leads God’s people into the promised land. Now, Moses is regarded in many parts of Scripture as being the embodiment of the Law. This is interesting since one of the key themes of the New Testament Gospel is that the Law cannot lead God’s people into the promised land. Instead it is Jesus — or Joshua — who takes the place of the Law in leading the people of God into the promised land.

The second thing which bears mentioning is the high priestly office occupied by Joshua. Jesus is said to have been a high priest (e.g. Hebrews 7) because he has atoned for sins once and for all by the sacrifice of Himself. He made the ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices. And Christ also is a priest inasmuch as he is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). But Joshua is not merely a high priest. He is also a king. To understand the significance of this, consider that the only other character in the Old Testament who held the offices of both priest and king is Melchizedek.

Who is Melchizedek?

In Psalm 110, David writes of the coming Messiah that “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”As already mentioned, Melchizedek literally means “King of Righteousness”. Melchizedek is described in Genesis 14:18 as being “king of Salem” — which literally means, “King of Peace”. Hebrews 7 explains,

1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

 4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

Like Melchizedek, Jesus occupies both offices — he is a priest and a king. At no other time in the history of Israel did an individual occupy both offices. Indeed, the one king who is recorded to have desired the office of priest — Uzziah — was struck with leprosy when he tried to burn incense (2 Chronicles 26). Fascinatingly, Isaiah begins his sixth chapter by writing, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Several textual indicators suggest that it is Christ whom Isaiah beheld in this chapter, and we are told as much explicitly in John 12:39-41. Isaiah thus seems to draw a contrast between the man who wanted to be a high priestly king and the one who would ultimately be the true high priestly king.

The third remarkable feature of the passage from Zechariah is that Joshua is designated the characteristically Messianic title “the Branch”. Isaiah 11 refers to the branch of Jesse, stating that “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD — and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.” Furthermore, the title “the branch” is used in Jeremiah 23:5-6, in which we read:

 5 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteous Savior. 

In the third chapter of the book of Zechariah, two characteristically Messianic designations are used: “my servant, the Branch.” The servant title likewise derives from the book of Isaiah. Indeed, the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is referred to as “my servant”. This most famous passage begins with Isaiah 52:13, in which we read, “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” And later on (53:11), we likewise read, “After he has suffered he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”

The vision of chapter 3 of Zechariah is somewhat different from that of chapter 6 inasmuch as Joshua represents not the Messiah but the nation of Israel. In this vision, rather, it is the angel of the Lord who represents Christ. The study of “the angel of the Lord” thread which runs throughout the Old Testament is another very interesting study which lies beyond the scope of this article. But the bottom line is that numerous evidences indicate that “the angel of the Lord” is a Christophany — that is, a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ. Let’s briefly take a look at the vision detailed in Zechariah 3:

1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.

6 The angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: 7 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

8 “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

The reference to Israel being snatched like a burning stick from the fire essentially alludes to the fact that God has snatched the nation of Israel from potential disappearance in their captivity — like pulling a stick out of the fire just before it is torched (see also Amos 4:11). The symbolism of the “filthy clothes” refers to the habitual condition of defilement of the priesthood and the people — which was ultimately the basis of Satan’s accusation that the nation of Israel is morally impure. These filthy clothes are removed from Joshua, and this represents the promised future “forensic justification” of Israel. The rich robes which clothe the high priest are symbolic of imputed righteousness (see Isaiah 61:10). The clean turban, which is placed on Joshua’s head, represents the restoration of the priesthood of Israel. This turban was part of the dress of the high priest, and would have inscribed on it the words “Holiness to the LORD” (Exodus 28:36-37; 39:30-31).

The final part of Zechariah 3 says,

 8 “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

 10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”

The stone that is set in front of Joshua is yet another referrence to the Messiah. In Psalm 118:22-23, Isaiah 8:13-15; Isaiah 28:16; Daniel 2:35,45; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:6-8, the Messiah is spoken of as being a stone, though in several senses — a stone which the builders have rejected; a stone which makes men stumble, a stone of refuge, a destroying stone and a stone of foundation. In the present context, He is the foundation stone. The seven eyes on the stone represent His omniscience. In Revelation 5:6, the apostle John speaks of the slain Lamb of God having “seven eyes”. There are several plausible interpretations of the engraving on the stone. It may be the case that this is a reference to the cornerstone of the temple building on which will be engraved an inscription atttesting to its Divine Builder. As such, there is a close association with the removal of the “sin of this land in a single day” — no doubt a reference to Christ’s redemptive provision at Calvary.

Revisiting Genesis: A Response to Critics

I recently posted an entry on this blog defending an old earth perspective on Genesis, particularly chapter one. In the comments thread pertinent to the post, a number of people have made some helpful and constructive criticisms of the arguments and positions I defend there. Here, I attempt to address these points.

One commenter — named Sam — lamented that there is even a need for debate, remarking that “It is a a grim truth that the only reason a theory like this must be created is that we as Christians can put too much weight in things outwith the Bible. A man or woman who is not a scientist will read these chapters without ever thinking that the word ‘day’ may mean ‘age’ or that the Sun may have been created well before it was mentioned. These ideas only come from attempting to rectify scientific theory and scripture, whilst placing an equal importance on each.”

This is an interesting point of concern. But my previous essay sought to demonstrate that Genesis 1 is fairly silent on the age of the earth. While one wants to properly read and understand all of what Scripture says, one does not want to fall into the trap of reading into the text what Genesis doesn’t say. Indeed, the fact that the church fathers struggled with several points of exegesis with regards Genesis 1 should be a source of reassurance that there are indeed genuinely difficult exegetical difficulties pertinent to the text, quite apart from considerations of science. To take one example, I showed in my previous entry that, regardless of what one thinks about the age of the biosphere (and the meaning of the days), it is extremely difficult to make a compelling case that Genesis 1-2 form a part of the first day. Indeed, the Scripture would seem to indicate otherwise, for all of the days begin with “And God said…”, a statement which we first read of in verse 3 of Genesis 1. If it is the case that day 1 begins in verse 3, then an unspecified period of time may have elapsed between God’s creation of “the heavens and the earth” and the first day. Such an interpretation is simply derived from a careful reading of the text, and is not motivated by scientific concerns.

Michael Boling similarly raised concerns regarding the issue of pre-Fall death. On this, I would make a couple of points. First, there is the issue that I noted previously — while one wants to be sure to see all of what the text says, one doesn’t want to see what the text doesn’t say. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that animal death is a consequence of the Fall. Even in Romans 5, which is the most commonly cited chapter regarding the Fall and its consequences, we are told (verse 12) that “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. [emphasis added]” So the context of Romans 5 pertains to human death, and not animal death. Another verse which we are often given is Genesis 1:29-30, in which we read, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’” This is taken to imply that all of life was herbivorous. But it seems that such an interpretation is going beyond what the text itself actually says. The text does not say that animals were created to be herbivorous. It says they were given the green plants for food: It doesn’t tell us that plants were their exclusive diet. Michael Boling directs our attention to Romans 8:22, in which we read that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”Again, however, the presumption that animal death did not precede the Fall is reading into the text what is not made explicit.

Another complaint made by Michael Boling is that, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and the new earth when all things will be restored to perfection.” With this I agree. But my view of the new creation is that it will not only be restored to its original condition. But that it will also be made better than the original Creation: That is to say, it will be restored and more! In light of such an understanding, I am also inclined to find this argument similarly unpersuasive.

In my previous entry, I also showed that Adam and Eve did not die, as God had said they would, on the day that they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead, they went on to live a full life afterwards. This is suggestive that something beyond natural death is in view here. And, indeed, “death” is often used as a metaphor in Scripture for spiritual separation from God. For example, Ephesians 2 speaks of us as having formerly beeg “dead in [our] transgressions and sins.” So I have no trouble understanding the Fall as incurring spiritual separation from God or “spiritual death”. But even if we do grant that the consequence of the Fall was physical — and not just spiritual — death for mankind, the point does nothing to prove that the earth (or even the general biosphere) is very young.

When I linked to my posting on facebook, a friend of mine complained about my interpretation, in the context of Hebrews 4, of day 7 — the day of God’s rest — as extending to the present time, remarking that “I can’t believe you explained it that way.” But this interpretation seems quite plausible to me. Hebrews 4 states that his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.'” They further complained about my interpretation of the Flood, making the following arguments:

  1. Water seeks its level
  2. The rainbow is representative of God’s promise never to send such a Flood again (but there have been “local” Floods since Noah).
  3. Why build an Ark (rather than having Noah simply leave the area)?

Point one only works if you assume that the Flood was reaching over the highest mountains, a point which I critiqued in my previous post by noting that the word translated “mountain” (har) in our English Bibles is a general term referring to any geologic relief, from a small hill up to a towering peak. So the text is quite ambiguous as to just how deep the waters were. The second point similarly fails if you take the view (as I do) that the Flood was universal with respect to its impact on human civilisation. It wiped out all of humanity save for those who were onboard the Ark. And, indeed, no such Flood ever since has done such a thing. The third point is slightly more difficult, but it is possible that God wanted to use the Ark as a prototype of Christ (the story is dripping — no pun intended — with Christological symbolism). It is also possible that He wanted to give the repentant sinner opportunity until the last minute to board the vessel, and it would have taken time to escape the vicinity of the Flood.

I would like to thank those who made interesting and constructive comments and criticisms. It is my view that this issue ought not become a divisive issue or a ‘hill to die on’ among believers. There are conservative evangelical exegetes standing on both sides of the issue. And this should encourage us to respect the views of our fellow Christian brethren who have labored diligently to come to terms with these matters.

Why I Reject A Young Earth View: A Biblical Defense of an Old Earth

The question of the meaning and proper interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis is one of the most heated subjects in Christendom today. Few other topics have evoked such polarised opinion and division. The diversity of views on Genesis, even among the most learned of exegetes and scholars, is staggering. While one extreme insists that the days of Genesis must strictly be interpreted as seven consecutive 24-hour periods (thus rendering the earth very young indeed — in the order of thousands, and not millions or billions, of years old), at the other extreme lies the notion that the early chapters of Genesis are devoid of any historical content at all. On the latter view, Genesis 1 comprises a mythological allegory; Adam and Eve are reduced to mere literary devices; and the historicity of Noah’s Flood is typically abandoned altogether. There is a plethora of competing views which reside in the middle of those polar extremes: Examples include the Day-Age Theory; the Gap Theory; and various forms of progressive creationism. In this article, I attempt to show that, while it is possible to interpret the book of Genesis in light of a young earth, there is no Biblical mandate for this conclusion: That is to say, Genesis could be interpreted in that manner, but it does not have to be.

I am trained as a scientist (I’m a postgraduate student in evolutionary biology). And, as a scientist, the arguments for an ancient earth seem to be very compelling (needless to say, when it comes to Darwinian evolution, it is a very different story). In this article, however, I simply want to read and understand the text on its own terms, not missing what the text is saying; but, at the same time, not adding to it what simply isn’t there. Having shown that Genesis does not require that one read it as conveying a young earth, I hope that readers will be convinced that we can thus read and understand the science on its own terms as well. It seems to me that there are three major subtopics which an article of this nature must address. These are:

  1. The proper interpretation of Genesis One.
  2. The question of the fall of man, human sin and its consequences.
  3. The scale and scope of the Flood of Noah.

The proper interpretation of Genesis One

In approaching the text of Genesis 1, we notice that there are certain features which are suggestive that the text need not be read as necessitating that we take a young-earth view. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

First, there is the fact that the initial creation act described in verses 1 and 2 is separated from the six days of creation which proceed it. Consider the first three verses of Genesis 1:

 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Notice that there is a definite pattern associated with the days described in Genesis 1. Each one begins with “And God said…” and ends with “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” This being so, there is the implication that day 1 commences in verse 3, while the description in verses 1-2 of God creating the heavens and the earth precedes it. This conclusion receives still further support from the fact that the verb “created” in verse 1 is in the perfect tense, whereas the use of the narrative tense begins in verse 3. When the perfect tense is used at the start of a pericope, its purpose is ordinarily to denote an event which sets the background and context of the storyline: That is to say, it takes place before the rest of the story gets underway. This implies that verses 1 and 2 occurred an undisclosed period of time prior to the first day! This means that, quite aside from how one interprets the days of Genesis 1, the origin of the Universe (and, indeed, the earth) occurs, as far as the information provided in Scripture is concerned, at an indeterminate time in the past.

Second, there is the fact that, in the original Hebrew, there is no definite article pertinent to the first five days, whereas there is a definite article associated with the sixth and seventh day, which seems to suggest there is something special — or different — about those latter two days. One possibility, which has been entertained by some, is that the writer did not intend us to take the first six days as consecutive days of a single earth week, but, instead, as a sequence of six creation days: That is to say, days of 24-hour duration in which God supernaturally infuses novelty at punctuated intervals. On this view, it may well be the case that the individual days were separated from one another by unspecified periods of time.

Third, there is this whole business of the seventh (or, Sabbath) day of rest. Consider the first two verses of Genesis 2:

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Do you notice something peculiar about the seventh day? What ever happened to the “evening” and “morning”? For the first six days, the text, at the close of each day, states that “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” This stands in stark contrast with the seventh day, for which it is curiously missing. This has led some exegetes to argue that the seventh day, on which God rests, may be continous, and that we may still be residing in it. This gains traction from Hebrews 4:3-7, which states,

  3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

   “So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

   And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

 6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

   “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

If, therefore, it may be considered legitimate to take the seventh day as representative of a much longer period of time, then whence the mandate for supposing a commitment to interpreting the other six days as representative of 24-hour periods?

Fourth, there is the multiple-usage of the word “day” in Genesis 1. Let’s take a look at the manner in which the word “day” is used in the Genesis 1 (up to 2:4) narrative alone:

  1.  Genesis 1:5a: “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Here, “day” is contrasted with “night”: Thus, a 24-hour day is not in view, but rather “day” in the sense of “daytime” (i.e. 12 hours).
  2. Genesis 1:5b: “And there was evening and there was morning — the first day.” Here, the word does indeed mean a 24-hour day.
  3. Genesis 2:3: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” To this, I have already alluded — the key point here is the absence of “evening” and “morning”, which denotes all of the previous six days.
  4. The correct rendering of the Hebrew with respect to Genesis 2:4 is  “This is the account of the heavens and the earth in the day they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”

Fifth, it may be noticed that days 1-3 form a triad that corresponds to the triad formed by days 4-6. In day 1, God creates the light and distinguishes it from darkness; whereas on day 4, God creates the sun, moon and stars. On day 2, God separates the sky and sea; whereas, on day 5, God creates birds and sea creatures. On day 3, God causes dry land to appear; whereas on day 6, God creates the land animals and humans. This pattern may suggest that the exact chronological sequence of events is not in mind here.

Sixth, in verses 11-14 of Genesis 1, we read the following:

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. 

Notice that the text says “Let the land produce vegetation…”. This may suggest that God allowed the trees and vegetation to germinate and grow by virtue of natural processes. This on its own may suggest that the duration of this day was significantly longer than 24 hours! Further notice that Genesis 2:8 says, “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east…” This also suggests that God planted a garden which he thus caused to grow. Though I reject Darwinian evolution for scientific reasons, Genesis 1:24 could be interpreted as compatible with certain forms of evolution: “And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind. [emphasis added]”

Seventh, many features of Genesis 1 bear a striking similarity to texts concerned with the temple, a phenomenon which has given rise to various understandings of Genesis 1 as a description of the “cosmic temple.”  For one thing, there is the curious fact that the number seven appears so pervasively in temple accounts in the ancient world and in the Bible. Thus, the seven days of the Genesis account of origins has a familiarity that can hardly be coincidental and tells us something about the seven-day structure in Genesis 1. Furthermore, in the outer courtyard of the temple were representations of various aspects of cosmic geography. For instance, there was the water basin which 1 Kings 7:23-26 designates “sea”, and the bronze pillars, described in 1 Kings 7:15-22, which perhaps represented the pillars of the earth. The horizontal axis in the temple was arranged in the same order as the vertical axis in the cosmos. From the courtyard, one would move into the organised cosmos as he entered the antechamber, which is where one would find the Menorah, teh Table of Bread and the incense alter. In the descriptions of the Tabernacle, the lamb and its olive oil are provided for “light” (which is the same word used to describe the celestial bodies in day four). Then there is, of course, the veil which separates the earthly sphere from the heavenly sphere which is the dwelling place of God (thus serving the same symbolic function as the firmament). One could continue on and on in the same vein. This parallelism is particularly striking when one considers that, as John Walton points out in The Lost World of Genesis One,  the temple’s inauguration ceremony was completed by God taking up his rest in the temple, as he, in fact, does on day seven.

In regard to the fourth day of Creation Week, which is often a point of tension (it is on day 4 that God apparently creates the sun, moon and stars, after the creation of both plants and light, as well as the progression of days 1-3, which presumably required the sun), the verb “made” in Genesis 1:16 does not specifically mean ‘create’, but can instead refer to ‘working on something that is already there’ or even ‘appointed’. Such an interpretation makes sense in the context of the very next verse, in which we are told that the function of the sun in moon is as visible lights in the sky. If this interpretation is correct, it would entail that God appoints the role of the sun and moon, and is not a reference to their creation de novo.

A discussion of the meaning of Genesis 1 would not be complete without some mention of Exodus 20:11, which occurs in the context of the ten commandments which God gives to Moses. We read, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” As John Lennox observes in his recent book, Seven Days that Divide the World, however, “there [are] similarities between God’s creation week and our work week, but also obvious differences. God’s week happened once; ours is repeated. God’s creative activity is very different from ours; God does not need rest as we do, and so on. So it is not possible to draw straight lines from Genesis to our working week. God’s week is a pattern for ours, but it is not identical. Thus Exodus 20:8-11 does not demand that the days of Genesis 1 be the days of a single week, although it could of course be interpreted in that way.”

While one could continue in this vein, enough has been said. Let’s move on to consider our second question, which is concerned with the Fall of man, human sin, and its consequences.

What Exactly Happened at the Fall?

One of the most frequent theological arguments for a young-earth pertains to the common presumption that death did not exist prior to the Fall. The claim is based upon several demonstrably false assumptions. For one thing, it cannot be dogmatically specified (from a young earth standpoint) which particular class of living creatures for which suffering and death before the fall is unacceptable. The insistence that physical death is the immediate (‘on the day’) result of the fall makes God a liar and the snake the truth-teller. Thus the argument is based entirely on a fallacy.

Further, the text of Genesis 1-3 nowhere states that there was no death prior to the Fall. Certainly, the second law of thermodynamics (things tending toward increased entropy) was in place, for they were eating plants and fruit. So, at least some kind of death and degradation preceded the Fall. We also know that God said to Eve that he would greatly increase her pains in childbearing, not give her ones which she did not have before. God’s statement, ‘in the day you eat of it you shall die’ was said only to the first human being and had no relationship at all to any of the other animals, as is indeed the context of Romans 5 which addresses this very issue. The view that all animals were herbivores and that following the fall there was an instant re-creation act, in which body chemistry and behaviour patterns were changed seems to be an enormous extrapolation and an unwarranted eisegetical reading into the text. The Tyrannosaur was a machine designed for killing. According to the young earth view, not only would its teeth and anatomical and physiological features need to be radically altered, but it would require a whole new digestive system. Then we have the fact that the names of the animals which Adam named prior to the Fall have connotations of violence. For example, the Hebrew name for lion is derived from the Hebrew root that means ‘in the sense of violence’.

As I said previously, Adam did not die physically on the day that he ate of the tree, but lived a full life afterwards. The conclusion is thus necessitated that God was not talking about biological death or that he was not intending it to be taken literally. To quote N.T. Wright, “The result is that death, which was always part of the natural transience of the good creation, gains a second dimension, which the Bible sometimes calls ‘spiritual death’.”

What About The Flood?

Another frequent objection to an old earth lies with the apparently global scope of the Flood. But this argument, too, hardly seems watertight. For one thing, it fails to take into account that the ancients often spoke of localized or regional events in hyperbolic terms. One does not need to look too far for examples. Consider the following from the Old and New Testaments:

  1. Genesis 41:57 – “And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.”
  2. 1 Kings 10:24 – “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.”
  3. Luke 2:1 – “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire world.”
  4. John 12:19 – “So the pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
  5. Acts 2:5 – “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.”
  6. Romans 1:8 – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.”
  7. Colossians 1:6 – “All over the world this gospel is beairng fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

The ancient Hebrews did not think of “the world” as being a spherical globe, as one would today. Rather, to say that God had “flooded the world” would be simply to say that God had “flooded the known world” or “the land”. Indeed, 2 Peter 3:6 reports that, “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. [emphasis added]”.

One feature of the Flood narrative, which is often overlooked, is the statement that“on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, [emphasis added]“. This stand in marked contrast with respect to the often quoted “the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.”According to Armenian scholars, “the mountains of Ararat” cover an area of about 100,000 square miles of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iraq, and southern Russia.Since the focal point of the flood is Mesopotamia, it seems probable that the ark came to rest in the foothills of Ararat, which is just north of Ninivah. Moreover, it must be borne in mind, the Hebrew word for mountains, har, is a general term referring to any geologic relief, from a small hill up to a towering peak, which makes sense of Genesis 7:19, which reports that “They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.”

Conclusion

In this short essay, I have hoped to show that, while Genesis 1 allows for the strict “seven-consecutive-24hour-day” interpretation, it does not demand that we take it that way. While one wants to be careful to consider all of Scripture, we must be similarly careful not to read beyond what the text actually says. While the issue of the age of the earth will undoubtedly continue to be a point of disagreement among Christians, it should not be made into a hill on which to die. It should not be a point over which the church should divide. As we read in Romans 14,  “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” Old earth and young earth advocates ought to unite under the banner which is the glorious Gospel of Christ. Salvation is not contingent on what one believes about the age of the earth. This article has not, of course, dealt with the larger issues of science, nor has it offered a scientific critique of the young-earth perspective. What I have hoped to show, however, is that the Bible is silent on matters concerning the age of the cosmos and world. We may thus turn to science and other realms of epistemology — engaging with them on their own terms — for the answers to these questions.

Are the Biblical Genealogies Helpful in Establishing the Age of Man?

In 1650, James Ussher, the archbishop of Ireland, produced a detailed Biblical timeline, going all the way back to the creation of man and the Universe. Based largely on the genealogies given in Genesis 5 and 11, this chronology famously placed the creation of Adam and Eve in the year 4,004 B.C. Indeed, such a view is espoused by many Bible-believing Christians, even today. But just how sound is this view? Are Christians really committed to the view that the creation of man happened no more than 6,000 years ago? It is my personal view that using the Biblical records in this manner is ultimately misguided, and misunderstands the nature of ancient genealogies. One crucial assumption, which is employed in Ussher’s calculation, is the notion that the relevant genealogies are complete: That is to say, they contain no gaps or missing names. But are these genealogies actually complete as Ussher supposed? Here, I attempt to show that such an assumption is unfounded.

Much of the misunderstanding surrounding these genealogies results because we are reading them in modern English and in the context of modern western culture. The genealogies were written in ancient Hebrew and represent ancient Jewish culture. For one thing, the Hebrew word for “son” (ben) can mean “son”, “grandson”, “great grandson” or “descendent”. And, likewise, “father” (Hebrew ab) can mean father, grandfather, great-grandfatheror ancestor. For example, in Genesis 28:13, God says to Jacob, “I am the LORD the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac”. But Abraham wasn’t the father of Jacob. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Abraham was the father of Isaac, thus making Abraham the grandfather of Jacob. That being said, however, the verb used in Genesis 5 and 11 is the Hebrew “yalad” and is translated “became the father of” in the NIV and “begat” in the KJV. So, it does not even use the word “father” (ab), but rather “yalad” (which is similarly flexible in its meaning). This verb can mean giving birth to someone who is ancestral to the next person named (with many generations skipped). One example of this is the genealogy of Moses in Exodus 6. These genealogies report that Amram and his wife Jochebed “begat” (Hebrew yalad) Moses (two times) and refers to him as “son” (Hebrew ben). Thus, on at least two occasions, it uses the very same verb as used in Genesis 5 and 11. But what is important to notice here is that Amram and Jochebed lived at the time when the Jews entered Egypt while Moses was 80 years old during the exodus some 430 years later. This entails that approximately 350 years (and likely a minimum of 6 generations) lies between Amram/Jochebed and Moses. Thus, literally, it should be rendered ‘Jochebed begat a son (unnamed) who was ancestral to Moses’.

For a thorough discussion of this fascinating topic, I refer readers to this excellent paper by Dr. John Millam. The article lists the following examples where one can definitively say that the genealogies have been telescoped in this manner:

  1. Matthew 1:8 compared to 2 Chronicles 21:4-26:23
    Matthew 1:8 has Jehoram listed as the father of Uzziah but there were several generations between these men.  The names Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 22:1), Joash (2 Chronicles 22:11), and Amaziah (2 Chronicles 24:27) come between Jehoram and Uzziah.
  2. Matthew 1:11 compared to 2 Chronicles 36:1-9
    In Matthew 1:11 we read that Josiah is the father of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin).  In 2 Chronicles, we see that Josiah is the father of Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:4) and grandfather of Jehoiachin (2 Chronicles 36:8).
  3. Luke 3:35-36 compared to Genesis 10:24, 11:12; 1 Chronicles 1:24
    Luke contains the name Cainan between Shelah and Arphaxad that is missing in Genesis 10:24 and 11:12 and 1 Chronicles 1:24. Since all of the genealogies are true and Luke is the one with more names, then Luke must be more complete and the rest more telescoped.
  4. Ezra 7:1-5 compared to 1 Chronicles 6:3-15
    The genealogy of 1 Chronicles 6:3-15 lists the descendents of Aaron down to Jehozadak (Jozadak).  Ezra 7 lists Ezra’s own genealogy going back to Aaron.  Where the two genealogies overlap, 1 Chronicles contains 22 names and Ezra contains 16 names, making Ezra’s genealogy no more than 70% complete. Both genealogies span a time period of about 860 years from the exodus to the fall of Jerusalem, which suggests that both genealogies are in fact highly telescoped.  A thorough search of the Old Testament reveals that there were many high priests during this time period who are not included in either of these two genealogies, which provides additional evidence that these genealogies are not complete.  The following high priests are known from the OT but are not included in these genealogies:  Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:2), Uriah (2 Kings 16:10-16), possibly two Azariahs (2 Chronicles 26:17, 20; 31:10-31), Eli (1 Samuel 1:9; 14:3) and Abiathar (2 Samuel 8:17).
  5. 1 Samuel 16:10-13 compared to 1 Chronicles 2:13-15
    In the 1 Samuel passage, the prophet Samuel goes to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the new king of Israel.  Jesse has his seven eldest sons pass before Samuel but each is rejected.  Finally, David, the 8th son is brought in and is anointed by Samuel as king.  We find in 1 Chronicles, however, that David is listed as the 7th son of Jesse.  One of David’s brothers is omitted from the list to allow David to occupy the favored 7th position.  This may seem a bit odd to modern readers but this was an accepted genealogical practice.

One question which often comes up is the literary construct of the genealogical reports. For example, according to Genesis 5:9-11, “When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. And after he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died.” Some have suggested that the understanding, proposed above, of Biblical genealogies faces difficulty in accounting for the fact that the text would still read: “When Enosh had lived 90 years, be became the ancestor of Kenan…Enosh lived 815 years and had other descendants.” The dates, it is argued, would remain unchanged, even when considering this interpretation – whether Enosh became the father or ancestor of Kenan at age 90, it is argued, is irrelevant to the calculation. In light of what I have tried to show above, however, it is my view that the correct rendering of the text runs along the lines of: “At age 90, Enosh gave birth to a son whose descendants would include Kenan.” Thus, the 90 years refers to when Enosh became a father, not when Kenan was born. While this may seem very peculiar (or even wrong) in English, one must always keep in mind that we are dealing with an ancient Hebrew genealogy.

In conclusion, to try to place dates on Biblical events, squarely on the basis of the genealogies alone, faces significant obstacles, and springs from a misapprehension of the nature of ancient Hebrew genealogies. It is also important to bear in mind that this argument does not concern or address the age of the earth (nor, for that matter, the proper interpretation of Genesis 1). Rather, all it shows is that the Christian need not feel committed, as many contend that we are, to placing the creation of Adam roughly 6,000 years ago. Moreover, such a conclusion may be accepted by young-earth and old-earth advocate alike (I personally fall into the latter of those camps). On the flip side of the coin, the non-believer need not be turned off Christianity by the apparently extremely recent origin of modern humans. There is simply no compelling Biblical mandate for supposing that this is the case.