Tag Archives: biblical literalism

Shucks, that sounds like our fundamentalism

Cain and Abel
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When I was in Standard Three (equivalent to third grade in the U.S.), we were studying the biblical story of Cain and Abel. According to the lesson, Cain went to a land called Nod after he killed his brother. He got married and had a son called Enoch. Trying to understand the story better, I asked my C.R.E teacher whether Cain married his sister, because I assumed they were the only family on earth at that time. Instead of an explanation, my teacher caned my bottom and accused me of being an agent of the devil. “Who did you think you are to question biblical facts?” she yelled between thrashes. Reflecting back now, this is probably where I began questioning the veracity of Biblical literalism.

Michael Mungai: The Bait of Christian Fundamentalism in Africa.

I was ‘thoroughly corrected’ a time or too myself growing up. It happens here.

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Non-literal Numbers in the Old Testament

This is such a simple concept that I almost feel ridiculous writing about it, but YECs have swarmed this blog lately.  I thought non-literal numbers in the rest of the Old Testament merited a mention.

Charles Isbell was my first professor of Old Testament (though I’m sure it may have grated on his nerves as a Jewish professor to teach a course called “Introduction to the Old Testament” at a secular university like LSU).  One of the books assigned for this course was Isbell’s God’s Scribes.  In that book, though I can’t put my hands on it anymore, I remember there being a chapter on non-literal use of numbers in the Hebrew Bible.  Even as an evangelical, this chapter didn’t really bother me at all.  People use non-literal numbers all the time.  All that to say, Young Earth Creationism is absolutely lost on me.

I believe there are almost innumerable examples of non-literal use of numbers in the Bible.  Here are a couple of candidates:

  1. 2.5 million people leaving at the time of the (Exodus 12:37) Not likely (though I also realize that some have argued that “thousand” may not really mean “thousand” there).
  2. 430 years of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41) – Exodus 6:14-25 actually only calculates 4 generations between Levi and Moses. That this time period lasted 430 years seems doubtful to me.
  3. The ages of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 20) – I’ve always wondered what the King of Gerar would have wanted with a perhaps nearly 90 year-old, barren woman, but maybe that’s just me.
  4. Jeremiah’s 70 years (25:11) – Jeremiah said the people would serve the King of Babylon for 70 years after the land became a ruin and waste …. Nope, at least not if one reads the 70 absolutely literally.

Perhaps not all of these would work, but there are a myriad of other candidates.  These are just the first that sprang to mind.  I would obviously add to this list of non-literal use of numbers – 6 days of creation, the life spans of people in the book of Genesis, the numbers in the flood account (since they don’t all agree) …  and, oh yes, the age of the earth if you calculate it based on the Book of Genesis.

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The history of biblical literalism?

The 95 Theses, circa 1517. Written in protest ...
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Maybe the Brits don’t understand American Biblical literalism –

If you read the Bible asking: “What was St Paul saying to the Galatians?” all kinds of critical questions arise: How would first-century Asia Minor have understood these words? Would Paul have phrased it differently to a church he was less pissed off with? Would other witnesses have recalled the events he describes differently? But if you read the Bible asking: “What is God saying to me today?” it seems less appropriate to do anything but accept it at face value.

Funny, because some of the theological liberals who aren’t literalists ask ‘What is God saying to me today?’ Anyway…

Stephen Tomkins‘ title, How Biblical Literalism took root, is a mistake, as all he does is show a half-hearted understanding of biblical literalism and then disparaging those who hold to the viewpoint. If he would read Church History (ironically, he has written a book on the matter), he would see that many biblical literalists have existed and thrived in Christianity long before the 19th century’s reaction to German Higher Criticism. But, I don’t want to take away from his fun at jabbing the biblical literalists or anything…

He goes on to show his ignorance of the Reformation as well, stating,

Part of the problem is historical. The deification of the Bible is a result of the Protestant reformation. Before then, the final authority, the ultimate arbiter and source of information in religious matters was the church, with its ancient traditions and living experts. When Luther and friends opposed the teaching of the Catholic hierarchy, they needed a superior authority to appeal to, which was provided by the Bible.

It is a mischaracterization of both Luther and Rome to believe and to hold to as such. Instead, I suggest that Tomkins picks up a good Christian History book, or this one for the Reformation, before he embarrasses himself any further. Of course, I suspect that he is really confused and instead means biblical inerrantism, which again, shows his ineptness on the subject which he is discussing.

Bless his little heart…

Maybe he should have stuck to writing Monte Python instead…

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Is the Taliban more biblical than Christians?

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...
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“If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death. (Lev 20:10 NLT)

File this under biblical literalism and just how far are you willing to go? Or maybe, ‘canon within a canon’, because believe it or not, Christians have a canon within a canon. We know that the Taliban makes a big deal about falling Islamic law which is similar, in vein, to Levitical precepts:

Horrific video footage has emerged of Taliban insurgents stoning a couple to death for alleged adultery in northern Afghanistan.

Hundreds of villagers can be seen on the video standing around as the woman, Siddqa, is buried up to her waist in a four foot hole in the ground.

Two mullahs pass sentence before the crowd begins to throw rocks at her head and body as she desperately tries to crawl free.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1350945/Horrific-video-emerges-Taliban-fighters-stoning-couple-death-adultery.html#ixzz1CcM7Wiau

You might not want to watch that video…

Anyway, it got me to thinking about the dispersions we constantly cast upon Muslims, especially the conservative to the Fundamentalists. But, aren’t they simply taking their sacred text seriously? And, more importantly, aren’t they taking the text in Leviticus serious? Are they in fact more literal than we?

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Reflections on Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God – Part 2

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For the start of the series, start here.

He’s right. When inerrancy is taken to its logical level  there is a lack of pure claimants; however, Stark is wrong in assuming that inerrancy is acted out only by biblical literalists (Although he attempts to correct this view, too late in my opinion, on page 40. Of course, since most inerrantists rely on the Chicago Statement which stresses literalism, he has evidence for his assumption.) Today, modern inerrancy is taking on the notion that the bible was delivered correctly, not that everything in it is correct. For example, in discussing inerrancy with others, I use the example of Job’s friends. My friends counter that not everything in the bible is correct, good and true, but it was delivered inerrantly. I think that Stark falls into the same trap with demanding that inerrantists must be biblical literalists, although he does note that new get-arounds are developed from among the community. What inerrantists falter at, he is correct,  is that they have created within the canon a smaller canon, and even in that a smaller one than that! Christians no longer listen to the laws proscribed by Leviticus or some of the uglier points in the Prophets. Could I entice you to beg God to destroy the infants of your enemies as the Psalmist did in 137? On the surface, and at the climax of the doctrine, inerrancy leaves you answering only yes. And this is where inspirationists divide from inerrantists, even if they do not know it yet. And here again, he is correct that to counter the growing suspicion that inerrancy is not of the historical faith, and that it creates more problems than it solves, many inerrantists attempt to use other devices to solve their self-created riddles. If, as Stark notes, the same method of producing inerrancy (see his discussion on p18) was used by the Church Fathers, I would imagine that many of them could not have seen Christ so poignantly in the Hebrew Scripture. Inerrancy is not interpretation, but the lack thereof.

There is much to say about interpretation and those who practice the craft, such as biblical mention doesn’t mean divide allowance, but I suspect that this conversation is for another post.

I suspect that if inerrantists who were pastors would remove themselves from the debate, and step back to look at their own sermons, they would fully understand what Stark covers in his discussion on Ancient Jewish Hermeneutics, finding themselves well in line with the interpretative tradition. Interpretation generally didn’t involve what ‘really happened’ but examined what was happening in the now by what happened then. For an example, the Gospel of Matthew. By taking the eleventh chapter of Hosea and comparing it to the life of the young Holy Family, he could see the connection of the two. It was not that Hosea was speaking about Christ or that the Evangelist was examining the story of Exodus through Hosea’s interpretation, but that he saw in Christ and the flight to and from Egypt the events of the now mirrored in the words of the ancient prophet. Stark is right in pointing out that,

Interpretation was not a careful process of historical-grammatical exegesis, but an inspired identification of a “hidden meaning” in the text with a present-day reality or concern. (p20)

Further, I believe that he does well to show Daniel’s less than literal reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy wouldn’t make it if examined under the light of the Chicago statement. As I stated before, neither would Matthew’s (a particular prophecy is pointed out by Stark on p28-29), the author of Hebrews, Paul (as the author points on on p30-31) or many of the early Church Fathers’. As he moves into extra-canonical sources, namely the Qumran sect(s), we see the act of subjective interpretation developing full steam, with all too familiar associations with our modern sects. Of course, much to the disconcerting effects of inerrantists, Stark goes and ruins his section here with pointing out the very real fact that the Qumran sect(s) and the New Testament writers have a similar interpretative style (p26-27). While he is correct, it is still going to be disconcerting for those who believe that the New Testament was written in a vacuum.

Moving into the Patristic writers, Stark shows that he is able to confront with mainstream church history the doctrine of inerrancy. While I would caution that his reading of Marcion is too simplistic, I believe that he handles Origen and Augustine and their view of literalism well. In doing so, the author shows that the early Church wrestled with Scripture, and in the end, authoritative didn’t always mean inerrant. I do think that the lines of inerrancy and literalism are mangled in their mingling, but not necessary by Stark are others, but by such groups as the signers of the Chicago Statement; Stark simply resolves to answer them on their terms.

After discussing the ‘evidence’ of the Text and Patristic authors, Stark moves on to modern fundamentalists. I hate to use that word in a disparaging sense because I know a few that I couldn’t disparage, which is I why I try to separate the belligerent from the non-belligerent with the word extreme. I note that the author doesn’t fully disparage the idea that Scripture interprets Scripture but roundly takes to task those who use this method while attempting to hold to a historical-grammatical approach. Further, he notes fully the corner which those who are attempting to profess to only one right way of interpretation which they feel must necessary beget inerrancy but aren’t afraid of using others in a pinch are pushed into. Inerrancy is a redaction of the divine inspiration of Scripture, and thus a human face of God, as Stark might would put it.

Regarding his interpretation of 1st Timothy 2.12-14, I do believe that in attempting to showcase the problem here of inerrancy, he inadvertently dismisses the culture context of the passage and what the author may have been saying, which would still upset inerrantists.  It seems that he is almost grinding an ax with Mark Driscoll.

For me, my faith is Christ and Scripture is more secure of these facts, not less. The fact is, I try to use Scripture as it said of itself to be used, as the inspired instrument for the person of God (2nd Timothy 3.16). This is a great book, by the way, whether I agree or disagree with some of the points.

The Story of Ruth as a Chance to Right Historical Wrongs

During last night’s discussion on Ruth, I had several thoughts come to me about the story of Ruth, especially as a polemic way of righting wrongs and standing against political oppression. These are just thoughts, and I am in no way interested in becoming a Ruth-io-blogger, but it is a fascinating book nevertheless, even with the euphemisms.

I see three recapitulations in Ruth’s tale:

1. Tamar

Genesis 38.6-27 tells the story of Judah and his daughter in law, Tamar. Tamar’s husband died, and according to custom, was supposed to be married to her brother-in-law in order that her dead husband’s name to continue on. That didn’t go as planned, so some years later, she tricked Judah into fulling that obligation.

2. Lot and his daughters

The next morning the older daughter said to her younger sister, “I had sex with our father last night. Let’s get him drunk with wine again tonight, and you go in and have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” So that night they got him drunk with wine again, and the younger daughter went in and had intercourse with him. As before, he was unaware of her lying down or getting up again. As a result, both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their own father. When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. (Gen 19:34-38 NLT)

Both Tamar and Lot’s daughters tricked their partners, resulting in children. For Ruth, while there is a certain amount of mischievousness going on, essentially, both she and Boaz (unlike Tamar and Judah) fulfill the demands of the Law. Unlike Lot and his daughters, there is no breaking of the law either. Ruth, a Gentile, corrects the sins of the Tamar and Lot and his daughters.

3. Moab’s refusal to help when Israel invaded

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. (Deu 23:3-6 NLT)

When Israel was marching into the Promised Land, the Moabites refused to render aid to God’s people. As you can guess, this no doubt angered YHWH a bit, which caused this eternal curse. Ruth the Moabite not only follows Naomi into the Promised Land but serves to render support and begins to worship the God of the Jews. This is the opposite of what her descendants did to the Israelites who arrived generations early.

Finally, while this is certainly no ‘second chance’ thing, if we set Ruth against Ezra and Nehemiah’s reforms,

On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly. (Nehemiah 13:1-3 NLT)

For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” (Ezra 9:2 NLT)

Set that against Ruth and her descendants, which would have included the Royal Line of David. Did Ezra expel them as well? Was Ruth written during this as a warning against Ezra’s reforms and perhaps, especially since she is set up as an immediate ancestor to David, as a reminder that it is difficult to separate all of the ‘mixed’ from the ‘pure?’

And what of Matthew’s genealogy which expressly included Ruth?

Why is Ruth, a book about breaking the Law, in the Canon?

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. (Deu 23:3-6 NLT)

But Ruth was a Moabitess. But she was promoted by Naomi. But she was cared for by Boaz. Not only that, contrary to the Law of Moses, she was not only admitted to the Assembly of YHWH, but was admitted to the royal line of King David and then, to the royal line of Jesus Christ?

Why is a woman, who is not exactly an example of chastity, who is a daughter of Lot and his elder daughter’s incestuous relationship, and a daughter of those who didn’t help Israel’s march into Canaan, now one of the great examples of love and duty in the Scriptures and admitted into the royal line of the Son of God?

Calvin, Luther and Melanchthon believed Geocentricity?

In the words of our next President, ‘you betcha’! (with a wink)

As Scott notes,

Luther called Copernicus an “upstart astronomer” and referred to him as a “fool who wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

Melanchthon said that “the eyes are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of twenty-four hours. But certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded the earth moves.” In support of what was obvious to him and clearly taught in Scripture he would quote such authoritative texts as Ecclesiastes 1:5 “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.”

Jean Calvin is reported to have said: Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?

A commentator pointed out this article, which states easily enough,

Somewhere along the line, scientific dogma became enshrined in theological dogma, and passages in the Bible were found to consecrate Ptolemy’s theory.

In the article, to speaks of Calvin’s geocentricity and attempts to correct the ancient view….

Apologetics Press – Does the Bible Teach Geocentricity?.

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The Scriptural Basis for a Geocentric Cosmology? Part 1

I am, this week, continuing a conversation from Brian’s post, and to let this be an encouragement to him, in which Geocentricism was laughed at (now). The idea that the Sun and the Moon were the heavenly bodies which revolved, that the Earth was the center of it all, was not merely, as one contributor put it, ‘in Galileo’s day’, but prevalent throughout the early history of the Church. It is based on two things, first, a straight forward reading, otherwise known as woodenly literal, of Scripture mixed with a little Greek science. We know the history of the change of it, but we generally do not visit it as a topic any more; however, in discussing such issues with 6-day/6000 year Creationists, I find that it is needful to remind my brothers and sisters in Christ that these sames arguments – that those who seek to see science as adding to the inspired Word of God are somehow joining the world to it or loosening the authority, etc… I would dare say, that had Ken Ham been around in the 16th century, Galileo would have suffered at his hand.

Because of Fair Use, I am able to post this, nearly as the whole upon which it was received,

I am posting this in parts, in order to stoke a conversation.


Those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible are in for a shock. The Bible describes a cosmos that few of us would recognize today.

  • The earth is fixed and immovable and lies at the center of all things. The sun moves about the earth, not the other way around. Use of the phrase “solar system” should therefore be avoided in favor of the more accurate “geosystem.”
  • The earth is flat and finite. Its boundary may be circular, but the earth is most certainly not a sphere as was hypothesized by Eratosthenes (a pagan scientist who lived two centuries before the birth of Christ). The placement of globes in public classrooms can only serve to promote ecology as a possible state religion.
  • The sky is the roof over the earth — a solid impervious barrier that protects both believers and non-believers from the waters beyond. The term “outer space” is a notion perpetrated by secular humanists, new age gurus, and other freethinkers.
  • The stars on the sky are much smaller than the earth. (The word “on” is not a typographical error here.) The notion of “distant suns” is nothing more than a theory entertained by misguided scientists.
  • The laws of physics as they exist on the earth are different from those of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Astronomers should look to the Bible and not the Principia before they aim their telescopes. The former is the unerring word of God while the latter is merely the word of Isaac Newton. Nearly all scientist now recognize Newtonian mechanics as flawed, having inadequately explained the precession of the perihelion of the planet Mercury. (Newtonian mechanics has since been replaced by Eisntein’s general theory of relativity.)

You’d think Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell would be up in arms over these facts. Massive government bureaucracies send spacecraft to distant planets. The liberal media are awash in images of a spherical earth. (The Universal Studios logo is a globe!) Children in public schools are taught from Kindergarten that the earth revolves around the sun. With the exceptions of the persistent use of the terms “sunrise” and “sunset,” our modern world is flooded with images of heretical cosmologies that remove the earth from its God-given place at the center of all things. Only an atheist would buy the notion that we live on a tiny rock, circling an insignificant star in a galaxy of billions of stars in a universe of billions of galaxies. Why would God place his most holy of all creations in such location? Surely, no true believer in the Scriptures — the divine and unerring word of God — would accept the scientific notion that we live in place that is not special in the eyes of our Creator. I find it quite reasonable to insist on a Constitutional amendment requiring all Supreme Court justices to swear their allegiance to geocentrism and flat-earthism. Our souls and the souls of our children lie in their hands.

Beyond the hyperbolic humor, there is a truth here, in that the same arguments against those who keep the Word of God as inspired and yet understand that when new evidence is presented, it doesn’t lessen the authority of the word of God to change our interpretations. Further, it does damage to the Word of God to insist against mounting evidence that the interpretation must be kept, often times, creating conspiracy theories and straw-mans to maintain said interpretations.


O.K. You can stop hyperventilating now. The previous paragraphs are an example of a rhetorical device known as hyperbole. A hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that is not meant to be taken literally, but is used to emphasize a point. The purpose of this essay is to demolish the notion that the Bible has any scientific relevance whatsoever. In particular, I aim to show that the same thinking that leads devout fundamentalists to deny evolution as atheism must also lead them to embrace geocentrism and flat-earthism as God-given truths.

So why would I do this? What got me started on the road to endless arguments? I work as a teacher in the New York City public school system. From time to time, I’m asked quite poignant and perceptive questions.

  • Who said so?
  • Why is this the way it is?
  • Why should I care about this?
  • Is this going to be on the next test?

So here I am one day, trying to remember all the details behind the progression from the geocentrism of Aristotle and Ptolemy to the heliocentrism of Copernicus and Galileo when this student asks me the question of the day?

  • Where does it say that the sun goes around the earth in the Bible?

Where, indeed? I remember learning that the earth was created in six days in Sunday school, but I don’t remember anybody teaching geocentrism. And yet five hundred years ago, that would have been the case. If not in religion class, then in secular classes taught by church-sanctified masters, Europeans were learning that the earth was the center of all things and that the sun, moon, and planets revolved around it. Prior to that, they might have even learned that the earth was flat and that the sky was a solid covering that protected the earth from the waters beyond. Of course, they also learned reasonably useful things like literacy, numeracy, geography, and history. We have no problem accepting that these subjects were full of what we now recognize as errors and limitations, but when it comes to biology, the beliefs of two to four thousand years ago are accepted by some as fact. The earth and all that is on it, including all living things, were created in the literal span of six terrestrial days (today, roughly 24 hours).

O.K. If you want to play that game, then let’s go. If you want to use millennia old Scripture to support your half-baked scientific notions then I can do the same with mine (which you must remember, I don’t really believe in). What does the Bible actually say about the nature of cosmology? Let’s open the Good Book and read it with the same uncritical eye as that of the anti-evolutionists. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves.

Of course, using a document from a non-believer might be problematic for some, but truth is truth. And as we shall see, reading certain verses with a sort of scientific literalism attached presents problems.

I am going to take this as easy as I can, because I realize that honest and sincere Christians still believe it and Creationism. I don’t think that it is a matter of The Faith.

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Mark Stevens, N.T. Wright, and, literally, whatever this is…

Mark points us to a video by Peter Enns and N.T. Wright on biblical literalism. He writes,

I am an exegete not a scientist. I have no idea about science and would never dare to speak on such things. What I do know is Scripture and it is my belief that we cannot appeal to Genesis 1-3 scientifically. I am not saying that God didn’t create the world in six days and I also feel that it is possible for Christian’s to believe that God created the earth in line with modern scientific claims (not evolutionary theory but perhaps evolutionary process if that makes sense). I have a problem with is people who appeal to Genesis 1-3 for science. In my opinion this is a misuse of the text. As a faithful exegete I cannot make those claims.

Go, chew him out for how right he actually is

I love it when N.T. Wright… |.