February 13, 2014

Literally taking the Bible literally

by Lyndon Unger

When I was in high school, I took a class called “Western Civilization” from a teacher who was a Bahhai.  He was one of the smartest folks I had ever met up unto that point and was an aggressive skeptic of Christianity…well, he was more of an enemy of Christianity.  The class was called “Western Civilization” but was really an “Intro to ‘why Christianity is for idiots’ class”.  That class was brutal hard for me, as my teacher waged an assault against Christianity that had me in a flurry to find answers; answers to questions about everything from creation to eschatology.  That class is what got me into serious thinking about the scriptures and looking for answers beyond my youth pastor (who was more youth than pastor).

Mr. Relevant

Anyway, that flurry of study started me asking questions and finding answers, and I never stopped asking questions or finding answers.  Almost 2 decades later, I’ve learned a whole lot and changed my position on almost every point of theological understanding.  This may come as a shock to some of my readers, but I was once a tongues-speaking, egalitarian, panmillennial, allegorist who thought “conservative” was a synonym for “lobotomy” and thought that the pentateuch was the 5-pointed star associated with Satanism (no joke).  Along my journey from biblical idiocy to, well, less idiocy, I’ve developed a fairly firm set of beliefs about the nature of the Bible and hermeneutics, and I’ve become fairly aggressive about the importance of understanding scripture literally.

Now people love slamming guys like myself who talk about taking the Bible “literally”, but it’s mostly because they simply misunderstand what is meant by “literal”.  Taking scripture literally means, in a nutshell, understanding the words of scripture (a) in their common usage  and (b) in their appropriate circles of context.

A.  Common Usage

In order to understand the scripture, a literal interpretation of scripture will attempt to understand words according to their common usage in speech (as used by the original recipients, not the modern readers) unless they have sufficient reason to seek some other interpretation.  This means several things:

1.  It means that the literal interpreter will recognize and seek to properly understand figures of speech, poetic devices, etc.

The simple way of recognizing a figure of speech is given in the general rule – “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense“.

- An example of this is when Jesus says “I am the gate for the sheep” in John 10:7.  One instinctively recognizes that Jesus is using a metaphor here since it nonsense to think that Jesus is describing himself as a board with hinges.

open-door

- Another example of this is when the Pharisees say “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” in John 12:19.  One instinctively recognizes that the Pharisees are using hyperbole here since it is nonsense to think that they’re saying that every human being on planet earth, including them, is following Jesus.

crowd_2

- Another example of this is in Exodus 15:2 when the scripture records “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.”  Here, the plain sense makes perfect sense and there’s no obvious or apparent need to understand words like “day” or “desert” or “water” as part of some spiritual metaphor (or anything else like that).

2. It means that the literal interpreter will also assume that numbers, place names, proper names, etc. carry their common and straightforward meaning unless the context gives sufficient reason to search for an alternate meaning.

- An example of this would be in 1 Kings 20:29 where the scripture records “For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day.”  Here, the he plain sense makes perfect sense and there’s no obvious or apparent need to understand the numbers “seven” or “hundred thousand” as part of some spiritual metaphor (or anything else like that).  It’s a simple recount of a battle.

Battle

- Another example of this would be in Jeremiah 20:6 where Jeremiah says “And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon.” Here, the he plain sense makes perfect sense and there’s no obvious or apparent need to understand “Babylon” as part of some spiritual metaphor (or anything else like that).  It’s a simple recount of a person being told they’re going into captivity.

- Another example of this would be in Revelation 17:1-5 where the scripture records of the great prostitute who sits on many waters who makes the dwellers of the earth drunk with her sexual immorality, and whose name is “Babylon”.   The plain meaning is that there’s a gigantic prostitute, big enough to sit on multiple continents, who’s named after an ancient city.  This might possibly be a figure of speech unless one is willing to suggest something bizarre…

bigfoot

B.  Appropriate Circles of Context

Secondly, in order to understand the scripture, a literal interpretation of scripture will attempt to understand words according to their usage in their context.  “Context” is another word for “setting” and generally speaking, the context can be summed up in 2 broad categories: context of history (historical) and context of words (grammatical).  When bible scholars talk about the actual act of interpretation, they often may refer to the process as doing “historical-grammatical exegesis”; drawing out the meaning of words/passages as they were understood in their distinctive time and culture, and drawing out the meaning of words/passages as they were understood in the literature in which they appear.

1. Understanding a verse in its context of history will include things like:

- Understanding a passage within the theological context of the intended recipients.  An example of this would be where in Luke 17:21 , when Jesus says “the kingdom of God is in your midst”, people often take that to mean “The kingdom of God is within your heart” (or something along those lines).  Though this is a remotely possible interpretation of the passage, it’s a highly improbable interpretation for many reasons.  One of those reasons is that the Jews had no concept of a non-physical kingdom of God; the whole concept of a “spiritual” kingdom (where Jesus “reigns in your heart” but doesn’t have a physical throne, lands, or anything else tangible) would have been equivalent to the kingdom being imaginary.  One of my favorite examples of this is comes from a friend who makes a parallel the following way; when his wife asks him to do the dishes and he says “I’m spiritually washing the dishes”, his wife understands “spiritually washing the dishes” to be synonymous with “I’m still watching television and I don’t plan on getting up”.  To the Jews, a “spiritual” kingdom would have been synonymous with a “non-existent kingdom”.

dirty-dishes(Sweetie, I know they don’t look done to you, but you need to look with spiritual eyes!)

- Understanding a passage within its distinct political and historical context.  An example of this would be Daniel 1:7, where Daniel and his friends receive new names.  If one doesn’t understand that a conquering king re-named his prize captives to show their change in ownership and allegiance (not to the king per say, but to the nations’ pantheon of gods which often included the king), one would likely miss some of what’s going on in Daniel chapter 1.

belongs

- Understanding a passage within its canonical context.  A prime example of forcing a passage outside its canonical context is in the book The Prayer of Jabez.  In that book, Jabez’s prayer of “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Chron. 4:10) is taken as a prayer for enlarged gospel influence (among other things).  Bruce Wilkinson not only takes the term “territory” to mean something other than what it would have meant to Jabez (“land”), but he also forgets that 1 Chronicles takes place under the Old Covenant, where material blessings were part of the covenant promises.  Jabez actually prays for “more land”, because that’s one of the ways that the surrounding people would tangibly see God’s hand of blessing upon him.

Land, Sky and Mountains

2. Understanding a verse in its context of words will include things like:

- Understanding a passage within the setting of the surrounding subject matter.  An example of this would be Revelation 3:20, which records Christ saying to the church of Laodicea “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  This verse is often used as an evangelistic passage with a line like “Jesus is knocking on the door of you heart, friend…won’t you let him in?”  The problem with that is that the surrounding subject matter is that of a letter of rebuke to a Christian church that was disobedient and sinful due to excessive material blessing.  It is not an invitation to unbelievers to become believers; it’s a call to lazy believers to wake up and get going.  One needs to be skeptical of an interpretation that involves the author making random and bizarre changes in subject matter…

knocking

- Understanding a passage within its setting of genre.  One could do this by taking a passage from poetic literature and interpreting it in a non-poetic way, like as is regularly done by Denis Lamoureux (of Biologos and the University of Alberta).  One can read here how he builds his highly-stereotyped version of the cosmology of the Ancient Near East, notably using mostly poetic texts as if they were non-poetic.  An example of this would be when Lamoureux writes:

“The earth is flat. The word “earth” appears over 2500 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew: ‘eres) and 250 times in the New Testament (Greek: ge). Never once is this word referred to as spherical or round. Instead, the universe in the Scripture is compared to a tent with the earth as its floor (Ps 19:4, Ps 104:2, Is 40:22)”

It’s worth noting that all 3 texts Lamoureux cites are poetic texts, yet he treats them as non-poetic texts.  All three texts talk about how the heavens are spread out “like a tent”, and yet Lamoureux stretches out the metaphor far beyond its intention by making the connection that since tents have flat floors, the Ancient Jews must have thought that the earth was flat too… If one understands that poetic figures of speech are only used to only transmit a single idea in a simple word picture (like the idea of spreading out the heavens in the way that a tent is spread out when it is put up), one could never extrapolate a Jewish belief in a flat earth from any of those passages.

flat-earth

- Understanding the meaning of a word as discovered by its usage in a sentence.  A prime example of this would be the constant suggestion that the word “day” in Genesis 1:5b (or 1:8, 13, 19, 23, or 31) could mean something other than a 24 hour period of time.  The usual argument goes something along the lines of “the word ‘day’ can mean a variety of things in the Old Testament, and ‘day’ carries different usages in Genesis 1 & 2, so one cannot be dogmatic about the meaning of ‘day’ in Genesis 1:5b”.  This argument is simply invalid; the meaning of a word is determined by its context, not range of possible meanings.  Sure, the word “day” has a wide variety of meanings in the Old Testament, but every time the word appears there aren’t three or four equally possible meanings.  In Judges 5:6, when the scripture records “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath”, there’s no real question as to what “day” means.  “Day” is clearly a synonym for “era”.  Yet, just 1 chapter over in Judges 6:27 Gideon tore down the altar of Ba’al “at night rather than in the day” and again, there’s no real question as to what “day” means.  “Day” clearly is shorthand for saying something like “the period when the sun is up”.  The reason readers don’t wonder whether “day” means the same thing in Judges 5:6 as it does in 6:27 is because the word is clearly used in a different way in the sentence.  In Genesis 1:5b, “day”  couldn’t really be used in another way other than a 24 hour period of time because the setting of the word in the sentence dictates the possible meanings of the word.

Genesis1

- Understanding the pronouns in a passage to isolate the audience of a passage.  An example of this would be one of the most often mis-quoted and mis-applied verses in the scripture; Jeremiah 29:11.  Jeremiah 29:11 (in the oft-cited NIV) says “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  People like to claim this passage as a promise to themselves, but when you trace the pronoun “you” back through the passage, the initial referent is in 29:4 when Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord “to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon”.  If you’re not currently in exile in Babylon, this passage isn’t written to you.  Jeremiah 29 has universal truths that are applicable to all believers (i.e. God has plans for all people, therefore God has plans for you), but we’re not the original audience nor the “you” of 29:11 and I dare suggest that most people don’t make a nuanced distinction between the promise of the verse and the principle behind the promise.

JeremiahBack

So the literal meaning of a passage of scripture, the single meaning that the author intended to convey to the original audience, is found in the common usage of words understood in their appropriate circles of context.  I would go so far to suggest that a majority of misunderstandings of scripture by Christians involve either forcing words to mean something outside their common meanings, or forcing words to mean something outside their meaning in their circles of context.

I could write a whole lot more on this, but that should help you understand what I’m getting at.

I’ve also tossed out enough hotly contested passages that I’m sure the comment thread will cause me anguish and pain!

Literally.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “A text without a con-text is a pre-text to a proof-text” Unger

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • http://michaelcoughlin.net/ Michael Coughlin

    Good help in this article. A lot of good examples, literally.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for your encouraging thoughts Michael!

  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    A lot to take in, but I got most of it. :-)

    • Lyndon Unger

      Yeah, it’s a large and wide ranging topic Melissa! I hope it helps somewhat thought!

  • Doug

    Excellent. Ironically, I recently heard a CT preach on the perspicuity of scripture. I thought he was just about to convert to dispensationalism by the end.

    • Lyndon Unger

      What’s funny is that, years ago, some of them actually did!

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Do you happen to know their names?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    o: “It means that the literal interpreter will recognize and seek to properly understand figures of speech, poetic devices, etc.”

    o: “Understanding a passage within the theological context of the intended recipients.”

    Hi Pastor Unger,

    Terrific essay. I’d like to get your thoughts on the following brief verses from Mark 14:22-25.

    When the Disciples heard Jesus say “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” at the very first Lord’s Supper, did they think they were literally eating and drinking the actual, physical body and blood of Jesus Christ? Or did they understand Jesus to be speaking metaphorically or symbolically? And did Jesus mean to be understood literally or metaphorically and symbolically?

    • Ray Adams

      @Truth unites Good question! You may not be trying to imply that there are times when the speaker/writer spoke/wrote knowing that his hearers would not quite grasp what was being said whether literal – I’m going to die and in three days rise again – or spiritual/metaphorical/symbolical, as in your worthwhile example.
      Lyndon, A clarification of this type of scripture, of which there are not a few, would be helpful. Nor does this take away from your obviously well stated point of the literal nature of our understanding of the text, which I support and enjoyed the expression. I suppose it hints at “unless there are other reasons not to take it literally.”

      • Lyndon Unger

        Thanks for the thoughts Ray. I’d suggest that my comment above could be flushed out in a post, but the short answer is above.

        If something is meant as a metaphor, then you take it as it as meant…and that’s actually taking it literally.

        If something is meant as a metaphor but someone does not take it as a metaphor, that’s actually not taking it literally.

        Examples are legion, but the statement “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” works enough.

        People who respond to that statement asking “Wow! What can I get you?” understand it’s true meaning (i.e. “I’m REALLY hungry”).

        People who respond to that asking “WHAT? A WHOLE HORSE? That’s IMPOSSIBLE!” completely miss it’s true meaning (i.e. “I’m famished enough to each an animal 5 times my body weight”).

        • Ray Adams

          Thanks, that’s helpful. My thought was that if the words were of a sort that the speaker realized the hearer would not understand, while still literal, the context would no longer be historical but, perhaps, the context of scripture as a whole – a kind of theological context for bringing light to passages which reached beyond the historical thought process.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Hey Truth, I’d suggest that the whole “literally vs. metaphorically” is actually a false dichotomy. The true dichotomy would be “naturally literal vs. woodenly literal” (IMO).

      If something is meant as a metaphor, then understanding as a metaphor is taking it literally. I’d dare suggest that “This is my body” is clearly meant to mean “this is a representation of my body”, not “this bread is actually meat”.

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        “The true dichotomy would be “naturally literal vs. woodenly literal”.”

        Yes! Totally agreed. Thanks for the careful refinement.

        “I’d dare suggest that “This is my body” is clearly meant to mean “this is a representation of my body”, not “this bread is actually meat”.”

        Oh you have really gone out on a limb here with your daring boldness! I like it when you use the words “clearly meant.”

        Would you have any problems if I rephrased your statement as:

        I’d dare suggest that “This is my body” is CLEARLY MEANT to mean “this is a representation of my body”, NOT “this bread is actually my body.”

        • Lyndon Unger

          That would be fair, sure.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    There are so many more passages, in OT prophecy particularly, that are usually taken literally that make little sense that way.

    Canaan was a land that God repeatedly described as “flowing with milk and honey.” If modern literalists had been leading Israel at the time, they would have been disappointed when milk rivers and honey pools weren’t found there.

    Zechariah 14 is very popular as a literal description of future events, but it makes little sense if taken that way. “All the nations” are gathering to battle against Jerusalem? Many nations of the world hardly have a standing army at all, and how many armies can you bring to a battle against a single small city? Why would Canada be fighting Jerusalem? Or Nigeria? Or South Korea? Or Ireland? Or does “all” mean just the nations immediately around Jerusalem? If so, that’s not literal.

    Then there’s “living water” flowing out of Jerusalem in two directions, toward an eastern sea and a western sea (whatever those refer to–Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea?), during “summer as well as winter.” How long is the battle for, or does it go on for years?

    And v 12 doesn’t make literal sense with v 16: if God struck dead all who came against Jerusalem in v12 with a plague, then there would be no one left in v 16 to go up to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And even if there were any, why would Gentile nations be required to celebrate an OT Jewish feast that was fulfilled in Christ? The rest of the chapter, with rain withheld from the “family of Egypt” and “all the nations” that partook in the battle, horse’s bells inscribed with slogans, etc., makes no literal sense.

    It all must be teaching something completely different than a literal battle with actual armies and plagues and bells and mountains splitting and the Feast of Booths. But try to suggest that, and you’re thought to be not a serious believer.

    Then we have the Book of Revelation. Some say it’s actual depictions of future events. But Christ holds seven “stars” in His hand, a woman is clothed with the sun, a red dragon sweeps away a third of the stars with his tail, and a beast comes up from the sea with seven heads and ten horns. But call it all symbolic and you’re a heretic.

    I dare say there’s far more OT prophetic passages that are not meant to be literal, but many others recoil at that. Try looking at them closely and ask how they can make literal sense. Some can–and are. But many others cannot possibly be.

    • Lyndon Unger

      “Canaan was a land that God repeatedly described as “flowing with milk
      and honey.” If modern literalists had been leading Israel at the time,
      they would have been disappointed when milk rivers and honey pools
      weren’t found there.”

      I dare say you didn’t pay much attention to the article.

      Nobody who would have taken the phrase “flowing with milk
      and honey” literally would have expected rivers of milk or pools of honey. Everyone would have known that “flowing with milk and honey” was a figure of speech, and would have taken it accordingly as a figure of speech (i.e. they would have understood it in its naturally literal, not woodenly literal, way).

      If you’re coming here to pick a fight over an article that you apparently didn’t pay much attention to, I’m not wasting either of our time.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        OK, forget milk and honey. I’m not stubborn; just curious:

        Explain how Zechariah 14 could possibly be taken literally, as just about everyone does. I’ve detailed some observations about it above, so I won’t repeat that. But really–it’s easy to say “I take the Bible literally” when the fact is so much of it simply cannot. Insisting that all prophecy is literal sounds good, but it’s not long before you run into cul-de-sacs there’s no getting out of. I don’t think it’s a waste of time to face those passages honestly and admit that there may be varying degrees of “literal.”

  • Ray Adams

    Wonderful examples to clearly portray the necessity of taking the Bible literally! I find this literally useful and worth sharing.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for the kind words Ray!

  • Philip

    Lyndon,

    It looks like you believe the Bible says that the Earth was created in six literal days, and I assume that you think that occurred about 6000 to 10,000 years ago.

    However, humans are fallible. We’re all going to be wrong some of the time, and so what if your interpretation of the text happens to be incorrect? If your interpretation of the text happens to be wrong, how could you know that it’s wrong? In testing the accuracy of your interpretation, are there any types of evidence that are admissible besides the text itself?

    • 4Commencefiring4

      This is where it gets tricky. “Admissible” is the key word. If it is
      an “admissible” fact that light travels at close to 300 million
      meters/sec, and that it has been doing so since creation, then the
      universe cannot be anything approaching 10,000 years old–no matter how
      sure we think we are that we correctly understand a biblical text.

      But
      if we insist that a text’s accuracy must be limited to our current
      understanding of it, then we get ourselves into some tight spots and
      must assemble some rather tenuous explanations to account for the delta
      between what that text would require we see in the telescope and what we
      actually see.

      If the universe is only thousands of years old,
      as Ken Ham and many others insist is so, then either light once
      travelled at multiple times its current rate, or God created visual
      evidence of events that never happened at places that never existed.
      Given that choice, I’d vote for the problem being our reading, not His
      acts.

      • Lyndon Unger

        “If the universe is only thousands of years old,
        as Ken Ham and many others insist is so, then either light once travelled at multiple times its current rate, or God created visual evidence of events that never happened at places that never existed. Given that choice, I’d vote for the problem being our reading, not his acts.”

        Ah. There’s the blind faith. You assume several things without any basis:

        1. Physical processes have been occurring at a uniform raterate since “the beginning”. The bible gives us good reason to think this isn’t the case.

        2. The stars exist for the partial purpose of indicating the age of the universe. The Bible says explicitly this isn’t the case.

        3. The error in reading is, by default, in the interpretation of scripture rather than thr interpretation of nature. Carnal man is somehow free from the effects of sin when examining the world and will, through the examination of nature, EVER end up finding evidence for the existence of the God who will judge their sin?

        Really?

        If you buy that, I have an Egyptian pyramid that I’d like to sell you; low mileage and totally authentic. If you could just send me your banking information, I’ll set up the transfer of funds and you can start your own authentic ancient Egyptian tourism business in only a few days.

        Promise!

        • 4Commencefiring4

          1. So-called YECs (young earth creationists) claim that geological deposits, water and wind erosion, half-lives, etc, all had past rates far different than now. But they only do so in an effort to make their understanding of Genesis match empirical measurements, not any Biblical declarations. I could say gravity was once fifty times as strong as now, but there’s no evidence of that. It’s perfectly logical to assume–if we’re going to assume anything–that what we experience today is what has always been true. Water has always flowed downhill, and pretty women have always attracted more men than ugly ones. I really don’t think that’s ever been different. Call me crazy.

          2. The Bible says the heavens declare the glory of God; to note that there are billions and billions of them, and that they are at immense distances, underscores that glory. And that, in turn, gives us plenty of evidence that they have been there a very long time. Nowhere does the Bible tell us what the purpose of the stars ISN’T. Genesis tells us the sun and moon are for signs and seasons and to give light on Earth, but we have also–even while being flawed sinners– determined how far away they are and where they will be at any point in the future. We accurately predict eclipses, don’t we? Will you say we can’t draw those conclusions because the Bible doesn’t say that’s the purpose of the sun and moon? We sent Voyager into interstellar space and put a man on the moon based, in part, on those measurements. I think they’re reliable.

          3. We can test scientific conclusions; that’s what the scientific method is: repetitive, testable results. Water either boils at 212 degrees F at sea level, or it doesn’t. Testing our biblical interpretations for correctness? Not so easy. Some have decided Christ is returning in two phases; some say one. You can’t test that until He comes. You can’t test whether the disciples brought Jesus a single animal, or two, to ride. There’s reasons to think either way.

          • Lyndon Unger

            Nope across the board.

            The original event of creation was super-natural. The word “super” means, for all intents and purposes in this debate, “not”.

            I make no claims about gravity, nuclear decay, the speed of light, measurements about distance of celestial bodies, etc.

            I only claim that God did what he said he did in the way he says he did it. He made a functional creation, complete with land, sea, plants, animals and people, by the power of his divine will through the mechanism of divine speech over the space of a week that was unfathomably unlike any other week.

            The fact that you keep trying to pit God’s revelation about his creation against his creation itself is strange indeed. The testimony of one perfectly truthful, absolutely reliable eyewitness trumps the guesswork of a trillion agenda-driven but intelligent liars.

            Finally, the sheer fact that a question is difficult and requires a LOT of work to answer doesn’t mean it’s unanswerable.

            We can test our biblical interpretations for correctness too. It’s hard work, like anything else. You may not know how to do that with accuracy, or you might night have ever seen it done, but that’s irrelevant to the question. The claim that some say Christ is the son of God and others say he’s just an elevated prophet is testable, just like claims about anything else in the realm of empirical knowledge.

            You take all the passages of scripture that people use to construct their understanding, examine each one in their historical and grammatical context, and see which position takes a consistent reading of scripture.

            There’s many debates in Christian circles…in fact, there isn’t a single point of theology that isn’t debated somewhere.

            Modalists deny the Trinity.

            Liberals deny the second coming, the Virgin Birth, and a bunch of other things.

            Legalists deny the reign of conscience in the New Covenant.

            Theistic Evolutionists deny the historicity of Genesis 1-2.

            The list goes on and on.

            The list means diddly squat about whether or not there is a true understanding on each and every issue.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            I agree with more of what you list than you may think I do. Sure, God absolutely created the universe in a supernatural week of creation. He just doesn’t tell us when that week began, only that it was “in the beginning.” There’s nothing I’ve said that “pits” something about that creation against what He said about it.

            But we must also deal with other facts we can verify. We know that the stars are at such great distances that light from them could not have reached us in 10,000 years, the approximate outside limit of time YECs insist on. So instead of simply concluding that light has been travelling for a very long time (and that Gen 1:1 can be both true and describing events of a very long time ago), they construct all manner of ridiculous theories about “c” being much faster in the early days than now, or that God created stars that He immediately blew up and whose light He supernaturally dragged to Earth for us to see today as supernova. This is what they resort to because they can’t accept the possibility that ancient events could still take six days, but also be a very long time ago. Apparetly Bishop Usher’s calculations are still respected in some circles. Oh, well.

            Genesis also says God made animals “after their kind.” But we know “kind” can’t be every small subspecies of everything. There had to be some process of development. Noah certainly didn’t take two of every species of canine onto the ark, or every species of snake or bird. Yet if one suggests that generic evolution of the animal world is a reality, that different kinds of dogs developed from the “kind” known as “canine”, somehow that blows up Genesis. No, it doesn’t. But it does mean man and apes didn’t come from a common ancestor. That WOULD blow up Genesis.

            The point is, we can reconcile true science with true Biblical readings. They don’t have to conflict. But we also don’t need to insist that Adam & Eve looked like Ward & June Cleaver.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Humans are fallible.

      I might be incorrect.

      If someone can show me when I’m wrong, using the text of scripture (from the words of the passage in question and without blazing contradiction to other clear passages of scripture), I’d change my understanding.

      Is there other admissible evidence beyond the historical and grammatical evidence? What are you proposing? The speculations of unregenerate men examining bones and stones and conflating metaphysic statements with physical observations of nature?

      • Philip

        “If someone can show me when I’m wrong, using the text of scripture (from the words of the passage in question and without blazing contradiction to other clear passages of scripture), I’d change my understanding. Is there other admissible evidence beyond the historical and grammatical evidence? What are you proposing? The speculations of unregenerate men examining bones and stones and conflating metaphysic statements with physical observations of nature?”

        Do you believe that all old earth geologists are unregenerate?

        So, you are limiting admissible evidence to the text of the Bible? I think that this is what you’re saying, but I’m not sure what you mean by the word “historical”. I assume that the historical record that you
        are referring to here is the record of Genesis. By all means, please correct me if I’ve misunderstood here.

        I think it’s worth remembering the text itself is composed of human
        language, and human language is a fallible tool and clearly subject to ambiguities and misinterpretations. God’s revelation has to be written and understood in Hebrew, English, etc., and languages aren’t perfect constructions. The testimony of “one perfectly truthful, absolutely reliable eyewitness” has to be filtered through an imperfect medium, and those who disagree with your particular interpretation of imperfect texts are not necessarily “liars.” You may think that you have a “true understanding”, but those who disagree with you feel the same way about their understanding.

        In addition, in the case of the Bible, there are no addition texts forthcoming to help us resolve disagreements or to help us determine if our interpretations happen to be wrong. We have a text that is thousands of years old, and for thousands of years, humans have argued about its meaning. Since nothing is being added to the text, the arguments never end and are never resolved. This goes far beyond just the age of the earth, of course. For example, there are arguments between the Calvinists and the Arminians. Come back in a thousand years, and the arguments will still be going on, with both sides citing the particular sub-set of verses that supports their position.

        I believe that there are many who would say that they can use the text of scripture to show that you are wrong. However, I doubt if this will change your mind. You’ve read the text a hundred times, you’ve
        made up your mind, and confirmation bias is going to make it very difficult to see the text in a different way (in fairness, this is also true for those who disagree with you). So, if you’re wrong, how will you determine if you are wrong from the text alone?

        I would suggest that if we wish to test a particular interpretation, if we truly wish to consider the possibility that we might be wrong about something, then perhaps it would be useful to go beyond the text. The text describes the physical history of a physical
        object. The Earth is a physical object, species are physical objects, and so questions about the age of the earth and the origin of species are questions about physical objects. So, perhaps we can use physical measurements and testable hypotheses about the physical world to answer questions about the physical world. Perhaps we can use the data that can be acquired from the physical world to test your conclusions about the meaning of the text. Perhaps there’s another way to determine if you are wrong, after all.

        Yes, you can dismiss all of this by saying “supernatural”, but if one
        appeals to supernatural explanations whenever the physical evidence is against them, then it becomes impossible to know if one is wrong. “Supernatural” is basically a “get out of jail free” card.

        • Lyndon Unger

          “Do you believe that all old earth geologists are unregenerate?”

          Talk about a non-sequitur.

          On that one issue they’re borrowing from an unregenerate worldview when they calculate current processes into the past indefinitely.

          “So, you are limiting admissible evidence to the text of the Bible?”

          No. The “grammatical” part is synonymous with “the text of the scripture and the rules of language” and the “historical” part is synonymous with “all historical facts we have”.

          The text is not composed exclusively of human language. As a Christian, I believe in the inspiration of scripture: the text of scripture is actually synonymous with God’s words from God’s mouth.

          Your comments about language implicitly betray you. You expect that I’ll understand what you’re writing, hence you write it. God is a better writer than both of us combined. He does not lack the power to write with clarity.

          As for theological arguments, the fact that some folks suppress the truth doesn’t mean that specific questions are not unresolvable. That’s total nonsense. Pick any single passage of scripture on any issue, and we’ll go through it and come out the other side. Then, all you need is to repeat the process until you’re done.

          “I believe that there are many who would say that they can use the text of scripture to show that you are wrong.”

          So what? It’s not a question of belief. It’s a question of the meaning of words in their setting in a sentence, so bring it. See my previous comment.

          Supernatural is not a get out of jail card when your interpretation of empirical data contradicts the Bible. It’s a wildcard to dethrone assumptions of indefinite uniformitarianism when using the current rates of physical processes to make predictions into the past.

          It cannot work because the uniformitarian assumptions are factually incorrect.

          • Philip

            “Talk about a non-sequitur.”

            Not a non-sequitur. You used the phrase “speculations of unregenerate men”. You didn’t say “unregenerate worldview”. You said “unregenerate men.” I assumed that you were talking about “unregenerate” geologists, and you seemed to suggest that their “unregenerate” status was relevant to their conclusions and grounds for dismissal of their views. Hence, my question.

            “On that one issue they’re borrowing from an unregenerate worldview when they calculate current processes into the past indefinitely.”

            So, geology is an unregenerate worldview? What’s the unregenerate worldview here?

            No. The “grammatical” part is synonymous with “the text of
            the scripture and the rules of language” and the “historical”
            part is synonymous with “all historical facts we have”.

            I’m not sure what you are referring to when you say “historical facts”. So what are the “historical facts” that are
            relevant to the age of the Earth? Where do these facts come from? I’m just not sure what you mean by “historical facts”.
            Could you clarify this term in the context of the age of the Earth and the origin of species? What counts as an “historical fact” in a discussion of these topics?

            “The text is not composed exclusively of human language. As a Christian, I believe in the inspiration of scripture: the text of scripture is actually synonymous with God’s words from God’s mouth.”

            Of course the text is composed of human language. You’ve drawn your conclusions about the age of the Earth from words written on a page or by listening to words spoken to
            you. That’s using human language. If you had never seen or heard the words of Genesis in the English language, then you would never have believed that the Earth was created in six days just a few thousand years ago. How else would you have drawn this conclusion? “God’s words from God’s mouth” reach you via the English language. You cannot avoid the role of language.

            Even if the text is not exclusively human language (whatever that means), it must be at least partially human language, and again, language is fallible tool and clearly subject to ambiguities and misinterpretations. At some point, you must use or rely on language to learn or acquire a conclusion about the age of the Earth. “God’s word” may be pure, but pure water passing through a dirty pipe gets polluted.

            “Your comments about language implicitly betray you. You expect that I’ll understand what you’re writing, hence you write it. God is a better writer than both of us combined. He does not lack the power to write with clarity.”

            You’ve missed the point, and erected a straw man. I’m not saying that human languages are unintelligible. I’m saying that they are flawed and fallible. There’s quite a difference
            between saying that something is utterly unintelligible and saying that something may be interpreted in several different ways. I hope that you understand me, but I doubt if you’ll understand me perfectly, and I expect that you will, on occasion, miss my point.

            As for the clarity of God’s writing, thousands of years of argument about the meaning of God’s words suggests that the clarity is not quite what you may think that it is. Blame this on humans if you’d like, but the evidence suggests the possibility that the text itself is flawed.

            “As for theological arguments, the fact that some folks suppress the truth doesn’t mean that specific questions are not unresolvable. That’s total nonsense.”

            It’s not total nonsense at all. After hundreds of years of argument, it seems quite reasonable to conclude that some
            questions are unresolvable. Do you think that another hundred years will lead to an all-Calvinist Christianity?

            Do you really believe that all who disagree with your particular interpretation are just insincere (or worse) folks who “suppress the truth”? I would suggest that referring to those who disagree with your theological position as a folks who “suppress the truth” is not likely to be helpful. As you’ve already agreed, you are not perfect or infallible. You could be wrong, and those you call suppressors of the truth could be the ones who are right. So, perhaps one should hesitate for a moment before calling others suppressors of the truth. Perhaps those who disagree with you really do have good and valid reasons for their positions.

            “So what? It’s not a question of belief. It’s a question of the meaning of words in their setting in a sentence, so bring it. See my previous comment.”

            And see my previous comments about language, confirmation bias and likelihood that those who read the text differently will be able to convince you that you are wrong.

            Of course it’s a question of belief (at least, in part). Isn’t it you position that the way in which one views evidence, including words in a text, is dependent on one’s worldview? How we interpret anything is dependent on worldview, right? Isn’t worldview somewhat synonymous with belief? So, isn’t the determination of the meaning of words a matter of belief?

            “Supernatural is not a get out of jail card when your interpretation of empirical data contradicts the Bible. It’s a wildcard to dethrone assumptions of indefinite uniformitarianism when using the current rates of physical
            processes to make predictions into the past.”

            Wildcard, get out of jail card, same thing. Either way, it’s a way to reject unpleasant observations and to avoid a genuine test of the accuracy of you conclusions. It’s a way to reject any possible disproof of your interpretation of the Bible without the need to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

            “It cannot work because the uniformitarian assumptions are factually incorrect.”

            Well, that’s a little vague, don’t you think? Not sure what you mean here.

            I’d be careful about being too anti-uniformitarian. Your entire belief system is based on uniformitarian assumptions, whether you realize it or not.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Your final paragraph is pretty much his bottom line: I’ve read the text, I’ve seen what it clearly (to me) states, I’ve drawn a conclusion based on that text, and the discussion is over.

            But this is not a new play. We’ve seen it many times before: based on clear texts, people of sincere faith (and I count myself among them) have been sincerely incorrect.

            –A dozen people in Salem were hanged based on sincere beliefs, based on “clear” biblical texts, that witches were real and walking among us.

            –Our planet was for a long time believed to be the center of the solar system based on sincere interpretations of Scripture: why would God create this special place for mankind and then make us just the third stone from the sun and hang it all at the edge of a larger galaxy among billions of similar stars?

            –Old biblical mistakes aren’t the only ones: when I was in college in the early ’70s, many evangelical christians–Hal Lindsay’s “Late, Great Planet Earth” being the main driver of this–believed Europe was about to become the revived Roman Empire with the Common Market turning into a 10 nation confederacy and making way for a (Jewish?) world leader who would take over the world and be the anti-christ. You could hardly find anyone who wasn’t ready to throw in with all this because it’s right there in the Bible, in plain language. How could you not see it?

            That was over 40 years ago. The Common Market is long gone, no Jewish world leader came along, the whole thing was a rabbit trail going nowhere. Some, like old hippies, fondly recall those days and still hold out hope that it’ll all suddenly spring forth into reality. But history has moved on to Islamic terrorism–something no one back in the early ’70s was warning us about because apparently there was no direct mention of Islam in the Bible.

            So sometimes–sometimes–we’re not even close to what’s truly going on. But we keep trying.

          • Philip

            I still remember reading the “Late, Great Planet Earth” back in the 1970s. Scared me silly. Didn’t come out from under the bed for a month. Then, as you’ve noted, nothing happened. I’ve always thought that the experience taught me a valuable lesson.

    • wapkep

      I am not sure where to join this discussion, so let me get in at the beginning question.

      First, let me point out that I believe in an all-powerful God who can do whatever He desires in the time span He needs in order to accomplish the task. Sometimes He needs to allow fallible humans to perform the task (i.e., take dominion over the earth, till the soil, physically move from place to place.). Sometimes He needs to perform the task Himself (i.e., parting of the Red Sea, Virgin birth, become the sacrifice for our sin, rise from the dead, etc.). In all these accomplishments, man is bound by physical and spiritual limitations or rules imposed by his position as the created, but God is not bound by these unless He imposes them upon Himself.

      Next, I believe that God’s Word (the Bible) is Truth presented to me as His revelation (through men) of His purpose for me and His plan to achieve His purpose in me. If He indicates to me that an event took or will take a day or a thousand years, I really have no reason to question it. I must take His Word on faith as a child would receive it. Interpretation of that Word, of course, must be tempered with intelligence as presented in the essay.

      Finally, in reviewing the text of the Creation, we must not forget that God created the world by speaking it. In so speaking, it is literally possible that the creation appeared instantly, fully functional and with indications that it had been developed over a vast time period. The first created being that is presented as being made from other material is man (from the dust of the ground) whose breath was instilled by the breath of God Himself, and woman (being formed from a rib taken out of man while he slept).

      Under these parameters, it is not an impossible stretch to believe that, since God said it took 6 days to perform the creation, it ONLY took 6 days. I have no other evidence that can be presented without some shadow of doubt. If I believe any other explanation, then there is doubt about God’s truthfulness, presenting the problematic question as to what other error is there in God’s promise or telling of the story that needs to be revealed as wrong. When we start heading down that road, we become a pitiful lot indeed.

      If we try to over-think what can never be proven or disproved, we will be focused on an issue that is inconsequential only to miss the larger point of living up to our true purpose for existence. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.

  • Heather

    Thank you for this article, Lyndon. I really enjoyed reading it :)

    Not to put you on the spot, but I’d like to know how you approach 1 Cor 11:1-16? I dunno…I struggle with it. One of the best explanations I’ve heard on it was from John Piper and Wayne Grudem in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” BUT, at the end of their entire explanation that Paul actually meant that women were to wear a veil on their heads, they throw it all out the window and basically say it doesn’t apply to our culture anymore so we don’t have to obey it. Which begs the question, so do I take that portion of Scripture literally or don’t I? I dunno, I just have a hard time accepting that God would include an instruction in His eternal Word that was only intended for the few Corinthian men and women? I know Paul was specifically talking to the believers in Corinth where their culture affected their church and all that, but would if God was trying to teach us more about headship in the Church, which God knew would trump every culture of all time? This has never been an easy subject for me to approach, especially as a woman, but I just want to obey God’s Word. Thoughts?

    • Rob Harrison

      Here is a place where cultural context is of great importance. For an excellent elucidation of that passage, check out the work of Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey. He has a book on 1 Corinthians called *Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes*; I think some of it may be on his website as well.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for the question Heather. I stumbled upon that text too, for many years. I finally got over my own confusion when I read it slowly and noticed something: the argument of the passage.

      Paul lays out the universal principle of authority/headship in 11:3.

      Paul makes application of that principle in 11:4-9.

      Paul then writes 11:10 – “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels”

      I’d suggest that in Corinth, the head covering was “a symbol of authority”, but it is no longer so in our culture. What would be a symbol of authority? I can think of several things, but head coverings aren’t among them.

      I think we take that passage literally, but I’d dare suggest that verse 10 is key to the question of universal applicability of head coverings. The thing that’s important is the relationship of authority (and the submission of believers to their God-given and creation-established roles), not the outward symbol of that relationship.

      • Philip

        So, two thousands years ago, going without a head covering was a sin. Today, going without a head covering is not a sin because the culture changed. So, what is and isn’t a sin depends on the culture.

        At what point in time was the sin no longer a sin? How did people know that that the sin was no longer a sin? Who decided when and why a head cover was no longer a “symbol of authority”?

        • Lyndon Unger

          “So, what is and isn’t a sin depends on the culture.”

          Nope.

          What is and isn’t a sin depends on the conviction of the conscience, as educated by the word of God and energized by the Spirit.

          The rest of your questions find their answers in history, but those answers are likely lost in history and vary from person to person.

          Welcome to the New Covenant. It’s confusing to many.

          • Philip

            Yes, confusing indeed.

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  • Shona Sijin Marion McCarthy

    I think your whole argument about “day” ignores the fact that all “days” are described as having ended except the 7th, suggesting we could still be in the 7th day. You’re also ignoring the fact that these days are stated to be days even before the sun was in existence, meaning they can’t simply be describing a period of time relative to the sun’s position, and another passage that says 2 Peter 3:8 “one day is like a thousand years”.
    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being Creationist, but I think it’s
    dangerous to insist upon that particular interpretation of the text.

    • Fred Butler

      A couple of thoughts,
      First, and I have to preface my comments with an apologize if what I am about to write comes across as snarky, but have you even bothered to read what creationists have written about the things you raise here? Every once in a while, I encounter someone like yourself who leaves a “what about such and such” comment as if no one has ever thought about it before and thus the entire position of YEC is defeated. In this case the idea of a 7th day, or the 2 Peter 3:8 passage.

      Both AiG and Creation Ministries International have extensive articles dealing with both of those objections. Perhaps the most comprehensive rebuttal in written form to deep time/old earth creationism is Jonathan Sarfati’s book Refuting Compromise. It has been out for at least 10 years or more. At the risk of coming across as a shameless link troll, I personally have interacted with similar arguments, http://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/refuting-theistic-evolution-and-old-earth-creationism/

      All of that to say, that you are either unaware of such things, which now you are so go avail yourself of the responses, or you were aware but didn’t find the response compelling for one reason or another. If that is the case, then we need to shift our focus to dealing with your objections. But please don’t throw out this idea that none of us have ever interacted with the so-called 7th day/ day is a thousand year defeater arguments.

      Secondly, and getting to the heart of the matter. How exactly do you think the original audience understood “day” when they heard the Genesis account read to them? Did they believe God meant long ages of time, or did they understand a normal, ordinary day as you and I know it?

      I guess a person can take the old approach of “God was helping out a bunch of unsophisticated morons by giving them baby like descriptions of the world because they didn’t have the blessing of having modern science tell them the earth and universe is gazillions of years old.” I guess we could go there.

      But if we honestly respect the audience and the Word of God, when we read other portions of scripture, say for example the 10 commandments in Exodus 20, God compares His time creating with the same amount of time He expected Israel to work, i.e. Six-days. Why would that change? Where is the disconnect? For any person who genuinely respects and honors God’s Word but wishes to accommodate a deep-time history of our world as generally taught by secularists, it is those passages that seem to be a bigger problem for the long agers than what you raise here.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Here’s an interesting thought (that is not original with me, BTW).

        A day, like an hour or a century, is merely a convention, a unit of time. Now consider this: suppose you watch a football game and it takes roughly two hours from kickoff to the final second on the clock, according to those in the stadium and those who watch by TV. Two hours.

        Now suppose someone else watched that same game, but he was watching from the sun or from Jupiter. How long would he say that game took? Not two hours, but less time…by how much, I don’t know. But let’s say he timed it at 1.5 hrs. Why would the same event be measured as two different times, but both are accurate? Because time is not the same for all observers, is it? The gravity on the sun is far stronger than Earth, and time ticks by more slowly there. The action on the field would look like the Keystone Cops–rapid movement, play after play. The fans on the scene would time two hours, but on the sun it would be shorter. Yet both are right.

        Is it possible that the creation week took place in a context of an expanding universe with far higher velocities, far higher gravitational forces, far more slowly passing time? Still “six days” when it happened, but from our perspective today looking back from a universe that is much expanded, we measure far different periods? Just as the football game could be said to take both 2 hours and 1.5 hours and both be right, is it conceivable that God made everything in six days that, from our perspective, looks like much longer?

        • Fred Butler

          Or. Get this: It could be possible that God created in the exact way that He said He did over and over again, in 6 ordinary days.

          Amazing how that is the last view anyone wishes to consider nowadays. The temptation to “help God out” and keep Him from being embarrassed by His own revelation is great, I know. So in order to not look like imbeciles in the eyes of the academics and the prevailing scientific magisterium it is easy to adopt one of the many hermenuetical Jedi mind-tricks that says Genesis means something entirely different than what it says. But, that merely twists a person into all sorts of gymnastical shapes forcing him to apply an eisogesis upon Genesis that no other commentator saw until science told us the world was such and such an age.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Okay, I await your explanation of how we can somehow observe in the
            universe what there clearly hasn’t been time to see without going to
            silly, unproved extremes of your own that also “help God out” by
            suggesting that He did ridiculous things, like destroy stars that never
            existed so we could witness events that never really took place.

            My
            suggested “days” doesn’t violate anything Genesis says, does it? It
            still maintains six literal 24 hr days. But since the text nowhere
            tells us definitively how long ago it happened, unless you want to
            slavishly call each “begat” to be an immediate father/child
            progression–which is very debatable–then the ball’s in your court.

            Which
            are you seriously suggesting, that light doesn’t really travel at known
            speeds, or that it used to be far faster? The first is plainly
            incorrect, the second is pure speculation with zero foundation. Again,
            ball is in your court. I’m ready to believe you.

          • Fred Butler

            4C4 writes,
            My suggested “days” doesn’t violate anything Genesis says, does it?

            Your suggested “days” is a foreign concept/definition that is not found in the text of Genesis and does in fact violate a lot of what Genesis claims. And yes, I want to slavishly call the “begats” being an immediate father/son link just like Genesis 4 and 5 does, 1 Chronicles 1 does and Luke 3 does.

            continuing,
            Okay, I await your explanation of how we can somehow observe in the universe what there clearly hasn’t been time to see…

            Why do you assume things appear in the way secular cosmologist claim they think they appear? Just because you think they are “observing” them properly?

            How can you expect puny men who are extremely limited in their view of the universe by being trapped upon that pale blue dot as Sagan called it, are correct with their observations about what they see in deep space?

            I am taking it that you are aware of the various camps of stridently certain astrophysicists who polarize themselves around individual theories that attempt to explain all the problems with the standard BB model and the personalities who promote those theories, right? You genuinely think there is a consensus among secularists as to how we are to interpret the evidence? You may be content to take their word on it, but I’m not.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            You would seem to be ready to reject anything that the Bible doesn’t mention. Where is chemistry in the Bible? Calculus? Number theory? Fluid mechanics? Or are these all speculative, man-made evils that war against God?

            C’mon, pal–you live in a world that is being “discovered” bit by bit. You’re not dying of diseases that killed your grandparents because of what science knows now they didn’t used to know. You’re using a computer built by people who found out how electrons operate–which is another thing the Bible didn’t tell us about.

            I’m not denigrating the revelation God has provided. I’m saying there’s more things that are “true” than what’s in the Bible. And when my “interpretation” conflicts with what is repeatable and testable, perhaps it’s time to read the passage a few more times.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            “Why do you assume things appear in the way secular cosmologist claim
            they think they appear? Just because you think they are “observing” them
            properly”

            Do you know what a supernova is? Do you somehow think astronomers are all hallucinating? Or are these cosmic events some kind of Satanic deception? No, they happen; they are seen by people who have no spiritual agenda. They are the same kind of people who want to know why cells divide uncontrolled and become cancer. They are “subduing the earth”, a step at a time. You seem to think they are fighting God. No, they are finding out what He made and how He made it.

          • Fred Butler

            4C4 writes,
            You would seem to be ready to reject anything that the Bible doesn’t mention.

            I reject those things that attempt to provide me some alternative history of the world and man’s origin that is not revealed by the only one who could possibly tell me those things: the creator. Calculus and fluid mechanics are disciplines that do not try to build an alternative history of earth’s origins and man’s origins and insist it is the only way we can understand history. Nothing in fluid mechanics demands that I adopt the interpretative grid of deep time.

            continuing,
            You’re not dying of diseases that killed your grandparents because of what science knows now they didn’t used to know.

            What does immunization have to do with the history of the earth and the origin of mankind? More to the point, the interpretation of Genesis?

            Moving along,
            Do you somehow think astronomers are all hallucinating? Or are these
            cosmic events some kind of Satanic deception? No, they happen; they are
            seen by people who have no spiritual agenda.

            They are events taking place in deep space observed by individuals who are isolated and limited to watching those events take place from one vantage point, the pale blue dot.

            Why do you think their evaluation and conclusions as to what those events tell us about the history of the universe is authoritative and correct? Especially more so than what the God of heaven has said in His Word? All of the sudden, people can put satellites in space that can read cosmic background radiation and because they say it says one thing about the universe, I am to re-read what the Bible has always said and just take their word for it? Really?

            Now, if you genuinely do not believe they have a spiritual agenda, you’re much more naive than you have let on. Ask Lawrence Krauss if he has a spiritual agenda or not.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            The Bible covers creation of the entire universe in a matter of a couple dozen sentences using broad, sweeping descriptions. Do you seriously think that will suffice to give us details of that magnificent act? I still don’t know what you think is a conflict between modern cosmology and Genesis. They actually have many points of agreement.

            For instance, until the 20th century, most astronomers thought the universe was eternal. It had always been here. Genesis? Phooey.

            But in the 1920s, Ed Hubble discovered the universe was actually expanding, and in the ’60s the cosmic background radiation was detected in all directions. Guess what? The universe must have had a beginning. Shocking.

            Ever notice the words of Genesis regarding the emergence of vegetation? “And the Earth brought forth vegetation…” Science would agree with that exactly. There’s no conflict.

            God said man was created “out of the dust of the ground.” And what does science say? The living world–including man–consists of the very chemical elements that are found in the ground, carbon being one of the chief ones. Do you reject that knowledge as an “alternative” to Genesis? It’s not at all. It agrees.

            This planet was created with all the building blocks of life, the laws
            of matter, energy and motion, and trillions of secrets that we are uncovering
            year by year. We can dismiss those efforts as merely vain efforts by
            sinful and deceived men to explain away God, or celebrate these
            discoveries that glorify Him. I choose the latter.

            This “pale blue dot” happens to be where God placed us, and I think He commanded man in Genesis to dig into its components and find out what makes it tick. Unless, of course, we’re afraid of what we’ll find.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I don’t ignore the seventh day.

      We don’t need the sun to measure time.

      2 Peter 3:8 does not mean “The word day can mean ’1,000 years’ in other passages of scripture”. Think of it this way:

      You expect me to understand what you wrote, right? Do I need to know you as a person, or read something else you’ve written in order to understand the comment you posted?

      Of course not. Words carry meaning, and the meaning is found in dictated by their immediate context.

      Why do you think God cannot write as clearly as you can?

      I think it’s dangerous to suggest that a right interpretation of any text is impossible, since the very fact that you’re writing a comment (i.e. you’re creating a text, right?) betrays the fact that you know your own argument doesn’t hold water.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        No one, least of all someone who names the Name of Christ, would accuse God of not being ABLE to write as clearly as we. But as we all know, there are too many passages to count that are understood differently by different believers…same words, different conclusions.

        Examples: What is “Babylon” in Revelation? How about the “little horn”? Who is “the king of the north/south” in Daniel’s prophecy? Is the 70th week of his vision still future to us, or was it fulfilled already? What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? Is the story of the rich man and Lazarus an actual case history of two real people who died, or is it a parable that compresses the whole future judgment into a single story?

        On and on. God described many things that have been the subjects of books, debates, and speculations. If I had been writing about my own plans for the future, I’d have said, in plain black & white, I’m going to do A, then B, then C. And watch out if D happens. But God instead chose to veil much of His acts in language that is not easily unwrapped. That’s why we have so many schools of theology. It’s not that clear on many levels.

        Even Jesus said things that might lead one to think salvation is simply believing in Him, which we would expect many have done; yet He also said the road is narrow that leads to life. The thief is saved after a life of crime, but yet sincere people who believed themselves saved after a life of service in His name are told, “I never knew you.” There’s a lot of A, but also a lot of B.

        So we can throw in with this conclusion or that one; but I’ve been wrong before about things I was sure of. But I’m sure it’s just me.

        • Lyndon Unger

          Here’s the rub. Did God intend to communicate something with each of those examples you gave, or was the goal something else (i.e. veiling of truth to remind us that we don’t know it all?)

          Citing hard examples doesn’t all of a sudden mean the Bible lacks perspicuity or a authorial-intended meaning.

          The sheer presence of vast disagreement doesn’t mean that two contradictory positions can be equally true.

          I’d dare suggest that our own slothful throwing in the towel on difficult biblical issues reveals our own intellectual slothfulness, nothing. I’ve almost never met anyone who is willing to “do the work” to sort through difficult biblical questions, and that includes the guys who write commentaries.

          • Philip

            So, what if someone “does the work” and yet comes to a different conclusion from you? In this case, what’s the problem?

          • Lyndon Unger

            “Doing the work” usually falls apart when someone lacks what I’d call one part of what I tend to call a “4 H” hermeneutic:

            1. Holy Spirit (regenerate heart).

            2. Honesty (admitting what a text does/does not say).

            3. Humility (sitting under the text).

            4. Hard Work (actual exegesis).

            For Christians, step 1 is the problem when you’re living in unrepentant sin (but I cannot see that). Steps 2-4 are the outwardly discernible places where things fall apart.

            If you’re dishonest, you simply will not let the text say what it says and remain silent where it’s silent. People will tend to try to claim that a clear passage is unclear from no reason found within the text itself (i.e. Genesis 1), or stretch a passage out to mean something it doesn’t mean (i.e. Rev. 3:20 & 2 Chron. 7:14).

            If you’re not humble, you tend to toss a theological system over the scripture and interpret it accordingly (i.e. how Arminians tend to misquote Matthew 23:37 every single time they cite it).

            If you’re not doing the hard work, you tend to assume the meaning of a passage and then assume it’s meaning without actually establishing it (i.e. how many Charismatics cite 1 Cor. 13:1 as a proof that there are angelic languages, over and against the grammar and structure of 13:1-3).

            It’s also now whether someone comes to a different conclusion than me; I’m not the standard for the “right” interpretation of scripture. The “right” interpretation is the one that comes from the actual text of scripture, doesn’t ignore the grammar/historical setting without giving undue exegetical significance to irrelevant data, makes consistent sense with the testimony of scripture on the whole, and doesn’t assume meanings of words/phrases that are in the passage.

            I commit all the errors I’ve listed, as does everyone else. We want to do our best to get as close as we can to the right interpretation, and I need the continual challenge of fellow believers to achieve that.

          • Philip

            I probably wasn’t clear enough in my question, but my question assumed that the two different conclusions were reached after each individual did everything that you said must be done to “do the work”, including the 4 Hs. The question assumes that nothing has “fallen apart” here, and yet, we’ve gotten two different interpretations or conclusions from the two individuals who “did the work”. For example, at least some Calvinists and Arminians must have met the standards and criteria that you have laid out, and yet, they come to different conclusions about the meaning of the text of the Bible.

            So in cases where “the work” has been done as you state it should be done, why are there two different interpretations, and how do you determine who is correct?

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  • Joe Scoggins

    The Bible is literally true in that it is literally inspired by God to say what it says. More to the point would be its purpose, which is to reveal the character of God, His love for His creation and His plan for its redemption.
    I believe in a six day creation. But if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter, because the Bible says what God intended it to say. Whether I can understand the details is far beyond the point. In spite of what many may think, I was not there and can only depend on my understanding of the account.
    What God did, God did. He is not accountable to me in terms of science or anything else. Quite the contrary.
    In the end, your context presentation is valid as long as it conforms to the purpose of Scripture to begin with. Context of word, verse, book, Covenant, and the Bible is always of paramont importance.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Okay. I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at, but I think we have some sort of general agreement.

      I gather the purpose of scripture from the text of scripture. God did what he did, and I don’t need to understand the process in order to understand God’s claims about his own actions.

  • PA1974

    Excellent article for the most part.

    However, do you really believe the Bible teaches that the world is flat? I know the Quran teaches the world is flat, but the Bible?

    Isaiah 40:22 is the key verse teaching that the world is a circle, and keep in mind that ancient Hebrew has no words in it to represent 3 dimensional objects. I didn’t learn this in seminary, I learned this while getting a college degree in Mathematics at Illinois State.

    Dt 4:19 seems to say that the stars are apportioned to the nations, which indicates the world is round.

    When Jesus taught about the rapture, He says two will be in bed, one taken the other left; two will be grinding at the mill, one taken the other left. That says to me that the rapture event, which occurs just once, in the twinkling of an eye, will catch some people in bed because in their part of the world it will be night and others at the mill because in their part of the world it is day. All evidence that Bible teaches that the earth is round.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I don’t believe the world is flat. I don’t believe I suggested such, and I’d dare suggest that you may want to re-read the section in question. The comment on Isaiah 40:22 is actually a quote of Dr. Dennis Lamoureux, and I hope I clearly showed how I disagreed with his marshaling of Is. 40:22 to support the idea that the ancient Israelites taught that the world is flat.

      I don’t have any doubt that the world is round, and I don’t believe that the Bible gives any reason to suggest otherwise, outside of misunderstanding various bits of phenomenological language.

      I wouldn’t use a rapture text to make an argument that the earth is round though; that’s equally dangerous. The passage in Luke 17:34 reads “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left.” The idea is that the two are in the same bed (not on either sides of the world), and the disappearance will be sudden and unexpected.

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