Monday, August 14, 2017

Creation and Science

Many have the opinion that the Bible’s story of creation is a myth. By that they mean that it is a superstitious fiction rather than a real account of the origin and development of the universe, the earth, and the appearance of life on earth. However, the remarkable agreement between the scientific story and the Bible story and big differences between the Bible’s story and the creation myths of the ancient Middle East point to a different explanation. Let’s look at the similarities first.

The universe began 14 billion years ago in an event called the Big Bang in which the universe began from nothing.

The universe expanded and developed over 10 billion year before the star we call the Sun and the planet we call Earth came into existence.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That creation was out of nothing.

No date for creation is given.
The earth developed from material circling the Sun about 4.5 billion years ago. It was a molten rock ball with nothing that is close to the organization of the present earth. It was chaos. Genesis 1:2 “And the earth was formless and empty and darkness covered the deep waters.” The earth was unorganized and in chaos.  

No date is given for this period of earth’s history.
For the first 500 million years of earth history the conditions on earth did not allow for life. The earth was cooling and was covered with smoke and steam. Volcanoes and volcanic activity was everywhere. It is unlikely that the sun would have been visible from the earth’s surface.

At some point in the early development of the earth a small planet –like object collided with the earth and a mass of material was ejected coming finally to orbit the earth. This became the moon.

But gradually the earth cooled and the smoke and steam cleared enough for light to reach the surface of the earth.

 The steamy atmosphere gradually cleared and there was clear sky and clouds and the surface of the earth.

Gradually dry land and seas developed. The first life on earth appears about 4 billion years ago, almost as soon as the earth became capable of supporting life.

The life during the next 3 to 3.5 billion years was simple single cellular life. Science does not describe the earliest life as either plant or animal. It was similar to bacteria.
 Genesis 1:6-8 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” There atmosphere is clear enough for clouds to appear above the surface of the earth.

 No date is given for this period of earth history.
Genesis 1:3-5 “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”  

No date is given for this period of earth history. 
Genesis 1:3-5 “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

No date is given for this period of earth history
Genesis 1:6-8 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” There atmosphere is clear enough for clouds to appear above the surface of the earth. No date is given for this period of earth history.
Life with photosynthesis appeared about 3 billion years ago. Photosynthesis is a characteristic of plant life.

Evolutionary History of Life
Genesis 1:11 “Then God said, ‘Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.’”

The Bible describes these plants in words that describe plants today, but today’s plants are related to these first single-cells that directly used the energy of the sun.

 No date is given for this period of earth history.

We do not know when the sun might have been visible from the surface of the earth. But the continued cooling of the earth and the volcanic activity would have kept the sun hidden behind clouds and smoke for many millions of years.

Genesis 1:14, 15 “Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.’”
Simple animals appear about 600 million years ago. It was life living in the seas. About 570 million ago arthropods appear. These are the ancestors of insects. About 500 million years ago all the animal phyla appear. This appearance of the animals was very rapid by evolutionary standards and still presents one of the biggest puzzles for evolutionary scientists. Genesis 1:20, 21 “Then God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.’ So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water,”

The word for birds is a general term for flying things. It might refer to the flying insects, which at this period were very large.

No date is given for this period of earth history
The first physically modern man appears 200,000 years ago. 

But the earliest evidence for human beings who were clearly religious dates from 12,000 years ago. The earliest site was Göbekli Tepe.

 “Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt's way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario [that civilization came before religion]: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it.”

Earliest religious site

Jacque Cauvin suggested that the Neolithic Revolution was influenced by an important theme he termed the "The Revolution of the Symbols" suggesting the birth of "religion" in the Neolithic.
Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’”

 No date is given for the first man who fits the description in the Bible of a man having a spirit. But we can estimate the times as being within 10 to 15 thousand years ago.

The rise of organized religion in Göbekli Tepe in what is now Turkey took place very close to the location the Bible describes as the Garden of Eden.

Science and the Bible’s story of creation and the origin of man are remarkably similar. The Bible was, of course, written in a pre-scientific age and is not a scientific description. But neither is it myth or legend. The earlier creation myths of the Middle East are very different from both science and the Bible.  If the Bible story were myth, coming from the Middle East, it would be more like the Babylonian creation myth. Instead it is more like the modern view of the origin of the universe. No myth comes close to the sober accuracy of the Bible story.

As a story it worked perfectly for those who lived before the scientific age. As a description of the sequence of creation it fits very well in the scientific age.

There is one place where the Bible differs from science.  It puts God at the center of the story. Fundamentally, it is a theological story about God’s relationship to the world and mankind. And that is a message for every age.


There is in America a sect of extremely fundamentalist Christians who believe that Mark 16:17 endorses the handling of venomous snakes  and that their handling those snakes is a sign of their faith. Though this sect is very new, beginning in the early 20th century, and consists today of only about 40 churches wiki  with about 3000 members in the rural American South, Bible critics like to point out the stupidity of the practice and blame the Bible for it.

   So let's look at what the Bible says. The passage most often quoted is Mark 16:15-18.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

   The accusation by skeptics is that the Bible - Jesus himself since this passage directly quotes Jesus - exhorts snake handling. Before looking at the passage critically, we should note that most conservative Bible scholars today consider the verses at the end of Mark, verses 9-20, to be a later addition to the Gospel. Most modern translations today indicate that in footnotes.

   Yet Mark 16 does mirror the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew where the command to go and preach the gospel is found  and in Luke 10:19 where Jesus says  to the seventy disciples,  " I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." So what do we do with Mark 16?

   First, we should determine what it says. It includes only one command, and that is to preach the gospel. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." The one verb is "preach" (κηρύξατε).  It is an aorist active imperative 2nd person plural. All that means it is a command to the disciples (and us) to preach the gospel until the task is completed. 

   In verse 17 and 18, "drive out," "speak," and  "pick up"  are all future indicative active. That means they are describing what will happen in the future not commanding it. And, in fact, those things did happen. Paul was bitten by a venomous snake and lived; believers spoke in tongues and drove out demons. Some Christians did place their hands on people and they were healed. But not all did so. 

   The passage says these signs will accompany or follow those who believe. It does not say, as the snake handlers preach and as the skeptics affirm, that all believers will do these things. And the rest of the New Testament affirms that few believers, even then, cast out demons;  not all spoke in tongues; and only Paul is said to have handled a venomous snake. 

   Secondly, we should not allow the foolishness of some believers and the critique of skeptics to divert us from the message. Snake handling is not a practice that is to be followed. Speaking in unknown tongues is not for everyone. Even the gift of placing hands on the sick for healing is not a gift for every believer. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
   But the command to preach the gospel is for all. And the promise that follows the command is one we can hold on to: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."

   Don't let the mistaken ideas of a few and the accusations of the critics deter you.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Slavery in the Promised Land

When the Hebrews left Egypt, they had endured slavery and forced labor for one hundred years. They knew what it was like working for hard taskmasters.

   They had come to Egypt along with many other Western Canaanite Semitic people in a wave of migration beginning about 1800 B.C. They settled in Lower Egypt along the Nile River in a land called Goshen along with the multitude of other Semitic or Asiatic people. These Semitic people later became known as the Hyksos. Joseph, Jacob's son, due to wise council he had given Pharaoh, had risen to a place of authority and served as Pharaoh's governor (Genesis 42:6).

   In the years that followed Joseph's death the Hyksos people and the Hebrews grew more numerous and stronger, and by 1650 B.C. the Hyksos, meaning foreign rulers, had come to rule all of Lower Egypt from Avaris, the Hyksos capital. The Egyptians, however, resisted the rule of the Hyksos and in a war between Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt that ended in 1550 B.C. they expelled the Hyksos from Egypt.

   At that point Canaanites and the Hebrews, who remained in Egypt and who were virtually indistinguishable from the Hyksos were subjected to increasing oppression.The Bible says that a Pharaoh came to power "to whom Joseph meant nothing." He conscripted the Hebrews into forced labor, and so the Hebrews were slaves for nearly 100 years. The Bible describes their servitude as harsh.

   When Moses rose to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, the treatment they had experienced as slaves was a fresh and bitter memory they took with them. At the mountain where Moses received the law from God that would govern their life as a nation, laws were included to ensure that the Hebrews did not turn to enslaving their own people or treating others as they had been treated.

Here are some of those Old Testament laws: 

Exodus 21:2, Hebrew slaves.

Hebrews might become slaves, usually because of economic necessity. But Hebrew slaves were to be set free after 7 years. They were to be set free fully provisioned (Deut. 15:12-15). But a slave wife, if she had been purchased separately by the slave owner and she became the wife of a slave later, was not set free at the same time. She apparently still had to fulfill the 7 years of service due her master.

Exodus 21:7-11, women slaves.
When a woman was purchased as a slave she was to be considered the wife of the slave owner. She had the rights of a wife, and that included protection from being sold to someone else. She would not be displaced by a later wife. If she was not treated as a wife, she had the right to her freedom.

Exodus 21:20, killing a slave.
If a slave owner killed a slave, it was a crime to be punished. Whether that was to be capital punishment or some other is not certain in the verse. But because no other penalty is required, we can infer the same punishment for a man who kills another either by accident or intention (Ex. 21:12-14).

Exodus 21:21, 26-27, injury to a slave/servant.

If a slave owner injures his slave but the slave recovers from his injuries, the loss to the slave owner of the time of recovery was considered to be the penalty. But if the injury was serious enough to maim the slave, that slave was to be freed as compensation for his injuries.

   Some have argued that Ex. 21:21 allows a slave owner to beat his slave nearly to death and get away with it or that if the slave dies after a few days the slave owner is not to be held responsible for the death. That takes the passage out of context with the other rules of just treatment and penalties. Because the death of a slave due to beating is covered in verse 20 and the significant and long term injury to a slave in verses 26-27, we can infer that this case was different. It was an injury that didn’t lead to death and it was an injury that was not permanent.

Leviticus 25:42-46, a Foreigner could be a slave for life.
Foreigners were not protected from slavery. They were protected as slaves by the same laws that applied to all slavery, but they did not have the right of release after 7 years or at the year of Jubilee. They would be slaves for life.

   Yet, there is no evidence of an institution of slavery. Apparently, the children of those slaves were not to be considered slaves. Those children might even have been considered as Israelites since they would be circumcised.

Deuteronomy 23:15, runaway slaves.
Slaves who had run away from masters outside of Israel were to be given refuge and not returned to their owners. They were to be free.

   The land of Israel was a land of refuge for both the Israelites who were refugees from Egypt and for anyone else seeking refuge. It was better to be in Israel than anywhere else. That general principle might be the guiding principle regarding slavery and foreigners. Being a slave in Israel for a foreigner was better than being free outside of Israel. As noted before they were accorded the same rights as Israelites, except for their bondage. They had become, as it were, the people of God and covered by the covenant.

   That was a blessing that far outweighed their bondage. They had the blessing of knowing of God and his mercy. They had the blessing of knowing God personally, and many foreigners became fully men and women of faith – as did Ruth and Rahab.

Tying it all together: Slavery was a reality everywhere. But it was not universally evil. In some cases it served the critical needs of a slave for home and livelihood. In some cases it resulted in the opportunity for improvement for their families that would not have been possible otherwise. In every case from beginning before the law to the end of the Old Testament, slaves were to be treated generously and with a sense of equality. Mistreatment of slaves was punished. A Torah observant, faithful Jew, such as Boaz, lived a well ordered life following the law as a servant of Yahweh God. He would not have mistreated his servant/slaves.

Slavery in the New Testament

Slavery was an institution in the Roman world. At the beginning of the first century A.D. and through the second century the number of slaves might have been as many as 10 million people, 1/6 of the population. Many had been captured during wars with Rome, but many were also the children born to those captured and enslaved enemies. Since Rome had no provision like the Jews of including the children of slaves in the nation as people with rights under the covenant of God, slave children often remained slaves. These slaves might have been laborers and have been mistreated, but there were also well educated slaves who served in households as servants and many times as what we would consider professionals like teachers and doctors.

   When Christian began to make converts among the Romans and Greeks many of those Romans were slaves, and a few were even slave owners.

   To these Christian slaves and slave owners Paul wrote instructions in several of his letters to churches and one letter to a particular slave owner, his friend Philemon. Here’s what he said:
To slaves he urged obedience to their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8 and 1 Timothy 6:1). They were to render service to their masters in the same spirit as they were to serve God. They were to consider their service to their masters AS service to God. Paul told them that in so doing they would bring honor to the Lord.

   Their life witness to the Lord was more important than even freedom, especially if that freedom would result in defrauding their master. Paul even sent runaway slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon because he did not want Onesimus to live with the fact that he had not only wronged Philemon by running away but had apparently stolen from Philemon when he left and had not returned what he had stolen (Philemon 14 )

   But Paul’s instructions were not to slaves alone. He also wrote to the masters who were Christians. He wrote that they treat their slaves with kindness, those who were believers as fellow believers (Ephesians 6:9). It is the same thing he asked of Philemon (Philemon 16). But he went beyond merely asking Philemon to take Onesimus back; he asked Philemon to accept him back as a redeemed freed man, redeemed by the debt Philemon owned Paul (Philemon 19)
   Paul believed that freedom is God’s design for human beings. He says so in Galatians 3:28 and 4:7. But that freedom of which he wrote was more than the freedom from slavery to a human master; it is freedom to God. And he believes that freedom to God is God’s design equally for men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave or free (Galatians 3:28). That freedom to God is our most urgent need. Freedom from slavery to a human master is desirable, and if it can be obtained lawfully a slave should seek it, but if not believers who were slaves should consider slavery as the place where God had placed him (1 Corinthians 7:21,22); it was his job.  On the other hand, if you are free, Paul says, do not choose slavery.

(The last may sound odd, but, in fact, a free man in Roman society could sell himself into slavery.)

Tying it all together: Slavery is not God’s design for human beings. But it is a reality in our world and has always been. God’s laws given to Israel controlled slavery and made it humane. His commands for Israel also resulted in foreign slaves having the rights, privilege and blessing of a natural born Israelite. That was a blessing that could not be measured. It made the serving worth the cost.

In the New Testament, Christians were the agents of freedom. They not only proclaimed the good news that God had set them free from slavery to sin but by their transformed lives began the process of changing the culture. And they did change the culture. Historian David Brion Davis argues that "the Judaeo-Christian belief in a monotheistic God who rules over a homogeneous group of people generally prevented European Christians from enslaving one another. As more Western Europeans converted to Christianity, this unified religious identity enabled the decline of slavery in Europe." Slavery in Europe

   But there remains the sad fact that hundreds of millions today are in slavery. Had God made a law making slavery wrong would it all be different? Unlikely. God made a law against stealing and lying yet there remains stealing or lying. No. Our selfish human natures pay no attention to God's laws. What is needed and what God provided was an inner change of heart and mind that willingly submits to God's design for a well ordered life, a heart that is generous to the slave and servant and careful about his or her good and sets the prisoners free.