Saturday, 26 April 2008

Did it rain before the flood?

I don't know that a definitive answer to this question is given in the Bible but it remains an interesting question.

Some have postulated men mocked Noah about a coming flood because they had never seen rain. Others have pointed to the rainbow covenant in Genesis 9 as a suggestion that rain was a new phenomenon, else rainbows would have been seen previously. The existence of rain suggests the existence of rainbows.

God spoke to the Flood survivors saying,
This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.
But the promise of the rainbow does not mean that rainbows had not been seen previously. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant. As other commentators have noted, bread represents Christ in the Eucharist, yet bread pre-dated this. Jesus gave new meaning to the bread in this context. It is possible that God gave meaning to the rainbow.

Nevertheless there is at least some suggestion that the rainbow was new.

In Genesis 2 it informs us that the ground was watered by a mist or spring.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist [or spring] was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—
Prior to the Fall there was no rain, the hydrologic cycle was much gentler than the system we encounter today. The rain may have started after the creation of man, though I can think of no reason for this begin. A better case could be made for after the Fall given the cosmological consequences of Adam's sin. Much changed at that time when we see the introduction of death into the world. Are there were mountains pre-Flood though likely of lesser size than the post-Flood ranges that we observe.
And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. (Gen 7)
If the highest mountains were covered by nearly 7 m of water they would not have been as high as they are now. There is plenty of water to cover a uniform earth to a significant depth, just not 8,000 m.

Mountains have an effect on the weather and their presence is one of the causes of rain.

If the world was essentially 1 continent before a peri-Flood break up then the movement of the ocean currents and the consequences of such would have been different in the antediluvian world.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1)
If the waters are predominantly in one place—the seas, then the land would likely be in one place. Of course some of the water was over the land in forms of streams, rivers, mists and springs.

There is also the suggestion that even seasons are a post flood phenomenon, they are first mentioned following the Flood. While creating God said,
Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. (Gen 1)
While this is a reasonable translation and is one followed by most versions, the word translated season is mow`ed, and it could be argued that the translators are reading their post-Flood assumptions into the translation. Mow`ed occurs 223 times in the Bible and is seldom translated season: 13 times in the KJV, once in the NET. The meaning appears to be related to appointment, whether that be time or place. So in Genesis the sense would be appointed times; seasons if they existed, but possibly months or years, or the general sense of maintaining a calendar for whatever reason (eg. festivals). The word usually used for season is the word for time (`eth). That it is not used here suggests an emphasis on appointed times. It seems a reasonable translation is:
Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs for (appointed) times, and for days and for years,...
The first mention of seasons explicitly is immediately following the Flood. After Noah offers a sacrifice God says,
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. (Gen 8)
It is very possible that it rained before the Flood. That rain occurred at the time of the Flood and the mention of the rainbow as a sign certainly does not preclude it. However other passages suggest that the pre-Fall and very possibly the pre-Flood climate did not experience the current hydrologic cycle of rain (and snow). Pre-Flood we have:
  • Ground watered by mist or spring
  • A single continent of land
  • A landscape with hills or small mountains
  • No mention of specific seasons

Saturday, 19 April 2008

What did Jesus know? Part 2

In my previous post I posited 4 categories which we can reasonably split the concept of knowledge into (there are others such as mathematical/ logical but this is unnecessary for our purposes here):
  • History
  • Future events
  • General facts
  • Personal thoughts
Of these, men usually only have access to 2 categories: history, if it has been documented; and general facts, if they have been discovered.

Men in general do not know the other 2 categories. Future events can only be known by God and those whom he chooses to reveal them to. Personal thoughts are only known to the man who has them and those to whom he reveals his thoughts; as well as God and those whom God chooses to reveal them.

Therefore discussion about whether Jesus knows facts concerning Joe Future is irrelevant to whether he knows historical events and whether he believes them. Now I happen to think that Jesus did not know every future event during his sojourn on earth. He knew a lot because the Father revealed it to him. Further, he could easily have known about Michael, Chris and James in the same way he knew about the way Peter was to die—revelation. But being human limited his ability to know everything in the universe at that time. And even if he did not give thought to every person he redeemed as he died on the cross, he certainly did in heaven before the incarnation and does so now.

Jesus' opinion about Genesis is not so much a question of knowledge in general but the knowledge of historical events and general facts (though predominantly history). Did Jesus concede to the worldview of the day and the documents of the past? If he was taught false belief the Father was able to correct him, whether the Father did so a further question. We need to deal with history versus myth and fact versus pseudofacts.

Dealing with factual knowledge first: I am not certain that many of the beliefs of the ancients were incorrect. What needs to be remembered is incomplete knowledge is not false knowledge. Further, an alternative classification scheme is neither incomplete nor false, it is just different. Examples of these:
  • Thinking we need to breathe air to survive is incomplete knowledge, thinking that oxygen is the component of air required for respiration is more complete knowledge.
  • Categorising animals based on locomotion or habitat is correct knowledge even though moderns prefer to use a more complete body plan for classification. (This is type of knowledge is always true because it involves making definitions).
  • Thinking maggots spontaneously generate from the essence of rotten food is incorrect knowledge.
Not knowing something and deferring an opinion till more information is available is not incorrect knowledge.

It is my suspicion that much of the ancients' factual knowledge was correct, even if, at times, it was incomplete. One could find several ancient ideas that were incorrect, however I suspect they would predominantly be amongst the speculations of the philosophers of the age. The reason for this is that most factual knowledge is merely observation, and the ancients were perfectly able to do as such. Errors are more likely to creep in where the gaps in knowledge were unobservable and speculation was made. Of course men are free to refrain from speculation and acknowledge ignorance. I do not see evidence in Scripture that Jesus held to false views of the world.

When considering history it matters if the history recorded is indeed accurate; and if not, is it inappropriately accepted, or dismissed for suspicion of error. That Jesus held to the truth of Scripture is easily provable. Whenever Jesus references Scriptures that record historical events he clearly believes they accurately describe reality.

Evidence that Jesus thought the biblical narrative reflected reality is seen in 2 ways in which Jesus interacted with it.

Firstly, Jesus' claims are based on the truth of the historical record. That Jesus' contemporaries will be judged harshly is based on the fact that Jonah was a real prophet and the Ninevites really repented. Examples could be extended to other historical personages such as Abel, Abraham and Zechariah. The form of Jesus' argument is based on the activities of these people really happening.

Secondly, Jesus affirms the truth of Scripture. Claims like,
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,... (Joh 5)
presuppose that Scripture is a reliable witness. More striking is how Jesus states that Scripture itself can prove men are in error:
Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (Mar 12)
When we suggest that Jesus falsely believed the historical nature of the Bible because of cultural considerations we both invalidate the premises on which Jesus corrects error, and deny his claim that Scripture is the arbiter of truth. If we destroy the premises our options become:
  • Jesus' comments were based on the incorrect views of the day therefore we can disregard them, or
  • we believe Jesus conclusions even though they were based on faulty logic
That the Father revealed the heart of Nathanael to Jesus yet did not inform him that parts of the Bible were untrue, or that passages that Jesus assumed were literal for his argument were in fact metaphorical, seems to stretch credibility.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

What did Jesus know? Part 1

Chris Tilling blogged on his journey from creationist to evolutionist. He was challenged about the fact that Jesus believed claimed the creation narratives were historical. So the question arises how does one reconcile this with an evolutionary perspective if one also is a Christian. A solution proposed is that Jesus could be wrong. Tilling's entry is worth reading in its entirety to garner his perspective though I will only quote part of it.
Jesus' worldview was in so many ways that of other 1st century Palestinian Jews. Had you asked him if the earth was flat, he would have almost certainly said 'yes' (cf. here on James' blog). Had you asked him if there was a literal Adam or Eve and serpent, I think he would have been puzzled by the 'literal' tag, but I suspect that if you had pressed him he would have said that he believes in a literal Adam and Eve (though I cannot prove these statements. I am making historical judgments, and I see no reason why he would not have believe these things – modern science did not develop for centuries. Though as noted, the whole metaphorical / scientific categorisation would have probably puzzled him). This is why, had you time travelled and asked 1st century Jesus to tell us about Michael or Chris or James, he would not have turned around and said 'Oh yes, Michael/Chris/James will be born in almost 2,000 years from now', and then proceeded to tell the details of your life to Peter and the disciples. He wouldn't have had a clue about you or me as he was fully human.
My concern with these types of responses is that they fail to grasp the various aspects of what they are discussing. Here we have several types of knowledge presented and a discussion of 1 type used as an example of another without consideration of the validity. Further there is lack of processing of the solution to all the corollaries. There are also false statements that need to be corrected.

There are 3 types of knowledge discussed in this example.

There is historical knowledge. This is information about the past that was recorded so it was accessible to people. The people who were aware of it knew these claims existed. They could believe them or disbelieve them but they are aware of the claims. That Jesus points to Adam and Eve to illustrate marriage means that he was aware of the Edenic narrative and it is clear that he agreed with it.

There is generalised knowledge about facts. The structure of the universe. The sphericity of the earth. The anatomy of a platypus. The flight path of the albatross. These facts exist but our knowledge of them increases as we investigate the world. If these facts have been discovered an individual can potentially know them, if they have not been discovered then men do not know them. One could ask Jesus how avian lungs work and short of revelation from the Father he likely would say he did not know. It is possible that being asked whether the world was flat or spherical he would respond that he did not know, if it was the case that Jesus did not know. I am not so certain however people at the time did not know.

Then there is knowledge about the future. One could consider this similar to the first category: history that is yet to be revealed. Other than educated guesses, there is no way for any mortal to have this knowledge. Jesus as man did not know these facts other than revelation from the Father. As part of becoming man there were aspects of the divinity that were not available to him in the same way. That Jesus did not know some things is evident by his statement that he did not know the exact date of his return:
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mar 13)
Interestingly Jesus was actually aware of many things in this category. Being close to the Father he was informed of much in the future such as the Olivet discourse and contemporary events that he would not have yet heard about such as Lazarus' death.

This divine knowledge extended to knowledge of the hearts of men. This was current rather than future knowledge, but only accessible to those thinking the thoughts. Jesus did not need the testimony of man because he knew what was in a man:
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (Joh 2)

Friday, 11 April 2008

Bible glasses

Young Earth Creationism claims that the world is about 6000 years old and God created it in 6 24-hour days. Geology is interpreted as being in a large part due to Noah's flood. These views are held because it is claimed that the meaning of the Bible, especially Genesis, demands this chronological interpretation and that the Noachian deluge was global in its extent. There is good grammatical reason to assert this belief. And I see few difficulties with scientific data finding it more compatible with this belief than biological or stellar evolution.

While my initial creationist beliefs were strengthened thru scientific evidences, my conviction is probably stronger now because of biblical considerations. Not because the science is less convincing than the biblical evidence but because philosophically I think that truth is more firmly grounded in Scripture.

This change to a more biblical approach has been quite helpful. When I was younger I wondered how the Bible could be reconciled with secular evidences, especially archaeological "facts" that pre-date creation, ie. are "older" than 6000 years. This "problem" is actually more acute as these "facts" only need to pre-date the Flood to cause a dilemma given the Flood's removal of antediluvian artefacts. This led to ideas like favouring the Septuagint chronology because it "gives more time." My approach now is, "How can secular claims be reconciled with Scripture?" The Bible is assumed to be true and contrary claims are treated with scepticism.

This is actually quite reasonable. Why should every secular interpretation be held up as the standard that the Bible is judged by? Especially given that these interpretations change, are inconsistent with each other, and often derive from an anti-biblical bias. Further, the Bible has been vindicated multiple times, and its documentation of the failings of its heroes points even more so to its authenticity.

The Flood was approximately 4500 years ago. Any claim for artefacts that pre-date this I assume is incorrect. I assume some bias by the claimants, even if it is not revealed. And I think that the true solution will be compatible with the biblical record.

This is my default position. I think that God intended for Scripture to be a true description of reality: historical, moral and prophetic. It is not exhaustive for sure, but correct in what it does assert.

Is this a biased approach? Definitely. But all approaches are biased. Do I base my bias on the pride of men or on the revelation of the true God? The secular bias is very real. It assumes that its foundations are firm, that Middle East dating should be based a reconstructed Egyptian dating, that any ancient historical text should have precedence over the Bible. All of these assumptions are based in the ideas of men and there are even good non-biblical reasons to reject them.

It is astonishing how much of what we read and hear has this bias. Claims about history are especially affected by secular assumptions. These secular biases are frequently present in study Bibles which give a multitude of unlikely synchronisms, conservative reasoning based on underlying liberal theology, wrong assumptions about the the origins of monotheism. I think it is prudent to hold secular historical claims and several other factual claims very tentatively.

And there is a need for developing a completely biblically based history and chronology thru which all claims, historical, archaeological, and others, can be filtered.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Biblical versus scientific creationism

Henry Morris makes an interesting distinction between scientific creationism, biblical creationism, and scientific biblical creationism.

His definitions state that scientific creationism is based on scientific data within a broad creation claim, biblical creationism defends a creation based solely on Scripture, and scientific biblical creationism is the development of the creation model based on Scripture and science.

I was a little suspicious of this when I started the article but on completion I think there may be some merit to this way of thinking. The systems are not contradictory but rather complementary as can be seen by the amalgamation of the first 2 systems in the 3rd.

Here is a summary of Morris' principles of the systems.

Scientific Creationism

What can be known about the universe thru scientific endeavour—general revelation.
  1. The physical universe was created.
  2. The biological universal was created.
  3. The biosphere was created in bounded kinds and adaptions are neutral or information losing.
  4. Humans were created and have an added spiritual component.
  5. Catastrophism rather than uniformitarianism explains geology.
  6. Natural laws dictate the scientific method.
  7. Physical and biological structures are deteriorating.
  8. An originally perfect and now deteriorating universe implies divine purpose.
  9. Humans can investigate manifestations of the divine in the material world.

Biblical Creationism

What can be known about the universe thru biblical study—special revelation.
  1. The creator of the universe is the triune God.
  2. The Bible is divinely inspired and true in all domains it touches on.
  3. The world was created in 6 days.
  4. Adam had dominion over the earth; the Fall cursed that dominion.
  5. The Flood and confusion of languages are historical.
  6. Alienation of man from God can only be rectified by God, and that in Christ.
  7. God will restore creation in the future and give life to those who accept him and death to those who reject him.
  8. Jesus will return and remove the Curse.
  9. Men should subdue the earth and proclaim Christ.
I am not certain I would choose these specific items or group them this way, but it shows some of what can be known by general revelation and what is added with special revelation. Further, additional ground can be made by marrying the specific to the general: we have much greater insight when it is clear that not only is geology catastrophic (general revelation), most of it was due to a single event over about 1 year (special revelation).

It is also apparent that general revelation is subservient to special revelation. For example if the world was made in 6 days this is not obtainable from scientific endeavour. Even if science can teach us much, such as fixity of kinds and that creation must have been over a short period (symbiosis and ecology), it cannot teach us a 6 day creation. But this information is obtainable thru revelation from the creator who made the world.

Biblical priority is real. Believing this can alter our perspective, which it the topic of my next post.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Random quote

Breezy, self-confident Christians tell us how wonderful it is to accept Christ and then have a good time all the rest of your life; the Lord won't demand anything of you. Yes, He will, my friend! The Lord will demand everything of you. And when you give it all up to Him, He may bless it and hand it back, but on the other hand He may not. . . .

A. W. Tozer

Saturday, 5 April 2008

To whom God reveals himself

There is an interesting comment by God at the time that he slays Aaron's sons for unauthorised offering (strange/foreign fire).
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10)
There are 2 other situations that somewhat parallel this one. The slaying of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6) and the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). In the Nadab episode God makes interesting statement,
Among those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.
It is uncertain whether the first clause should be translated
Among those who are near me I will be treated as holy
as per LXX, NASB, ESV and NEB; or
Among those who are near me I will show myself holy
as per NIV, NRSV, NLT, and NET.

If the former then Nadab and Abihu were in a position of closeness by the nature of their position as priests, in which case God killed them for not treating him as holy. If the latter then God revealed his holiness in his judgment of their disobedience.

Now consider the implication of the latter interpretation. Those who are close to God will see God's holiness and that by God's revelation. But to all men God will still make his glory known. Everyone will see the glory of the Lord. Those close to him will experience his holiness.
Among those who are near me I will show myself holy,
and before all the people I will be glorified.
The phrase is a parallelism. In which case the former interpretation may be the preferable translation and the second clause is expanding on the first.
Among those who are near me I will be treated as holy,
and before all the people I will be glorified.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Textual problems with a Wednesday crucifixion

Thanks for the responses Mark Call and Starwind. I wish to respond to some of the issues raised. To be clear, I don't think there are any real issues with a Friday crucifixion. Sans the 3 days and 3 nights passage, there is nothing in the other passages that would contradict this interpretation. Given that I think that "3 days and 3 nights" is an idiom, this fits a Friday crucifixion also.

If we propose a Wednesday crucifixion we strike some difficulties. I think these difficulties are great enough to refute it. The issues are:
  • Other Sabbaths
  • Friday activities
  • Duration of death
  • Discontinuity
  • The phrase "on the 3rd day"
The reconstructed view is to allow 72 hours in the tomb. It is proposed that Jesus died late Wednesday, that he is buried about the time of dusk (new day starting) and rose at dusk at the end of the Sabbath on Saturday. This proposal is consistent with some verses, for example several of the passages referenced by Art Kohl in his article Is it "Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday?" Or, "Palm Friday, Good Wednesday and Easter Saturday?". However it does seem to contradict several passages that are not referenced. It is not so much whether one can defend his position with several verses but rather does the interpretation do justice to the entirety of relevant Scripture.

Other Sabbaths

Are there other days referred to as Sabbath other than the 7th day? I am open to this possibility. Leviticus 25 refers to a Sabbath of years. The concept of 6 days work and 1 day rest is paralleled in 6 years and 1 year implying the land "works" in growing food and gets "rest" every 7th year. I have yet to be convinced this is the case for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Leviticus 23 we read
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.

"6 days shall work be done, but on the 7th day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.

"These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the 1st month, on the 14th day of the month at twilight, is the LORD’s Passover. And on the 15th day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for 7 days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the 1st day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the LORD for 7 days. On the 7th day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work."
Here God is introducing his holy convocations. These are the weekly Sabbath (7th day) and 1st day of Unleavened Bread and the 7th day of Unleavened Bread. Later in the chapter it identifies several other holy convocations: the 50th day of the Feast of Weeks (always the 1st day of the week), the Day of Trumpets (1st day of the 7th month), the 1st day of the Feast of Booths (15th day of the 7th month) and the day after the Feast of Booths (22nd day of the 7th month). So we have several days during the major feasts and every Sabbath (7th) day all labelled holy convocations. This however does not imply that holy convocations are all called "Sabbaths." Dogs are animals, birds are animals, but birds are not dogs. I have not identified the word "Sabbath" used other than for the 7th day, the analogy to years excepted, though I would be interested to be pointed to any.

Friday activities

Assuming that Jesus was crucified on the Wednesday and Wednesday dusk thru Thursday was a special Sabbath what happened on the Friday? The women went to the tomb to wrap Jesus' body in spices on the 1st day of the week. They would have done this on the Friday. That they did not is a strong argument against a Wednesday crucifixion.

Duration of death

While minor, if Jesus' specification of 3 days and 3 nights means 72 hours, why is this counted from his burial and not his death? If the starting point is his death, which it should be, he would have risen prior to the Sabbath, not as the Sabbath was beginning.

Discontinuity

Part of the problem I have with the reconstructed view is that there is no explanation of multiple Sabbaths in the gospel narratives. Luke likely wrote to a Gentile who may not be familiar with the intricacies of special Sabbaths. Why not explain this? even in minor detail. And should not all the days be mentioned? It reads like a continuous narrative and yet there is no mention of the Friday and what happened on that day.

The phrase "on the 3rd day"

The meaning of "after 3 days" can reasonably be interpreted to mean during day 3. The phrase "on the 3rd day" can not reasonably be interpreted to mean on the 4th day after 3 whole days have been completed. Further, the guards were to be placed until the 3rd day which, at the most, could mean until the Saturday and they would not be expected to still be there on Sunday morning.

As mentioned the reconstructed view is an attempt to allow 72 hours in the tomb based on an unnecessary, excessive literalism of an idiom—I don't deny that the phrase is somewhat literal: it means days and not months, years, or an unspecified time period. In doing so the reconstructed view solves one "problem" at the expense of creating many. A Wednesday crucifixion is untenable based on other passages that discuss the crucifixion.

It is not the passages that are consistent with a reconstructed view I am interested in, these are non discriminatory as the traditional view is consistent with them also. It is the problematic passages I am interested in. How does one understand these passages within the reconstructed view?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

April fool's gags

The Museum of Hoaxes lists the 100 best April fool's hoaxes of all time. It also has the 10 worse which are somewhat distressing. My favourite (though I have yet to read them all) was the discovery of a new fundamental particle: the bigon.
#37: Discovery of the Bigon In 1996 Discover Magazine reported on the discovery by physicists of a new fundamental particle of matter. This particle, dubbed the Bigon, could only be coaxed into existence for mere millionths of a second, but amazingly, when it did materialize it was the size of a bowling ball. Physicist Albert Manque and his colleagues accidentally found the particle when a computer connected to one of their vacuum-tube experiments exploded. Video analysis of the explosion revealed the Bigon hovering over the computer for a fraction of a second. Manque theorized that the Bigon might be responsible for a host of other unexplained phenomena such as ball lightning, sinking souffles, and spontaneous human combustion. Discover received huge amounts of mail in response to the story.
Very amusing!

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