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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Difficulties in the Bible - Part 2

Difficulties in the Bible (Part 2)

Last week we discussed difficulties in the Bible.  And this week we will continue with this same topic and take up several difficult Bible passages that have confused Christians over the years.   And we’ll try to give a few partial answers.

There is no part of the Bible that has been under as severe an attack as the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis.  So let’s begin here with this very first chapter of the Bible.  Time and again, we have been assured by critics that the teachings of the creation story in the Bible are in hopeless conflict with the best established conclusions of modern science.  Some theologians tell us that the first chapter of Genesis says that the world was created in six days, and each of those days was twenty-four hours long.  And then they add that modern scientists know that the world was millions of years in the making so the Bible couldn’t be correct.    

But anyone familiar with the Bible and the way the Bible uses words knows that the use of the word “day” is not limited to our standard day of twenty-four hours.  Here we are using our modern definition of the word “day” to interpret the creation story.  But the word “day” had a different meaning back in antiquity when the story of creation was first written down.  Bible students learn that the word “day” frequently is used to denote a period of time of an entirely undefined length.  For example, in Joel 3:18-20, the millennial period (1,000 years) is spoken of as a “day.”  And in Zechariah 2:10-13, 13:1-2 and 14:9 the millennial period is also spoken of as a “day”.  And even in the second chapter of Genesis, the whole period covered by the six days of the first account is spoken of as a “day”.  (Genesis 2:4)

Another point that is questioned in the Genesis creation story is that it speaks of there being light before the sun existed. (Genesis 1:3-5- here light was created on the first day) Some theologians argue that it is absurd to believe that light could be present before the sun was, (Genesis 1:14-19- the sun was created on the fourth day) since the sun is supposedly the source of light.  But a commonly accepted scientific theory-the nebular hypothesis- is that there was a cosmic light age before the sun became differentiated from the general luminous nebulous mass as a separate body.  So here a scientific theory upholds a detail in the Biblical creation story.

Scientists have differing views of what might have been the exact order of creation.  Their best scientific guesses of how the earth came about billions of years ago are theories (the theory of evolution) and not facts!     

Some Biblical scholars believe that anything written in Genesis after chapter one and verse one, does not relate to the original creation.  All the verses after Genesis 1:1 they believe may refer to a “refitting” of the world.  They believe that possibly the world had already been created billions of years ago as described in Genesis 1:1 (Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”) And then afterward the heavens and earth was plunged into chaos by the sin of some other race before Adam and Eve were created.  Who knows? It’s a unique theory!

Another question that is puzzling to some Christians is how to reconcile the records of genealogies in the Bible with discoveries made by anthropologists as to how long mankind has been on this earth. 

We have Biblical records tracing Jesus’ lineage back through David and Abraham all the way to Adam. (Genesis 5:6-32)  (Matthew 1:2-17) and (Luke 3:23-38) Some Christians believe that these Biblical genealogies prove that mankind has only been on earth not longer than six thousand years or so. It is said that the Biblical records tracing the lineage from Christ back to Adam (telling how many years between each father and son down the line)  only adds up to about four thousand years.  And since anthropologists insist that the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations were highly developed for more than four thousand years before Christ, critics insist that the Biblical records are incorrect.   

But in figuring out the dates of the Egyptian dynasties, the data upon which these conclusions are built is sketchy.  Historians are familiar with the ancient and Oriental habit of exaggeration.  Actually the length of some of these ancient dynasties is unknown.    

Also, we cannot be sure that there were only about four thousand years from Adam to Christ.  This belief that mankind is only about six thousand years old is founded upon the supposition that the genealogies found in Scripture are intended to be complete.  But further study of these records of lineage between Christ and Adam clearly show that they are not intended to be complete.  For example, the genealogy in Exodus 6:16-24, if it were taken as a complete genealogy containing all the names in the line, would make Moses the great-grandson of Levi, though 480 years intervened.    

The word translated “begat” in the Bible is sometimes used not for an immediate descendant but for succeeding generations.  For example, Zilpah is said to have borne her great-grandchildren.  (Genesis 46:18)  Bilhah is said to have borne her grandchildren. (Genesis 46:25)  And Canaan is said to have “begotten” whole nations.  (Genesis 10:15-18)

 So it seems that we moderns interpret the words “begat” or “bore” to mean a parent giving birth to a literal son or daughter.  Whereas the ancient Biblical interpretation of “begat” is broader and can refer either to a parent who “begat” a son or daughter or to a person who “begat” a distant descendant.  Many centuries may have passed in the Biblical records between the person and the descendant that he/she “begat”.  So we see that there is no conflict between Bible chronology and modern historical discoveries when it comes to the antiquity of man.  I believe the Bible was not written to satisfy our curiosities regarding how old mankind is  or other scientific matters, but the Bible is spiritual, a holy Book and it is alive – the living Word.    

Another Bible story that critics have questioned as being in error is the story of Cain and his wife.  “Where did Cain get his wife?” the critics ask since Adam and Eve were the only couple living on earth when Cain grew up.  And young women from other families did not exist for him to marry.   

In Genesis 5:3-5 we learn that Adam, in his long life of 930 years, “begat” many sons and daughters.  There can be little doubt that Cain married one of his sisters.  If the human race was to descend from one couple – Adam and Eve- the sons and daughters had to intermarry.

Another puzzling passage in the Bible is found in 1 Samuel 16:14 which reads: “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.”  So the question:  How could a good God send Saul an evil spirit?  In this story, Saul was king of Israel and he had deliberately disobeyed and rejected God. (1 Samuel 15:22-23)  God had withdrawn His Spirit from Saul when Saul rejected Him and a spirit of discontent and unrest had come upon Saul. So the “evil” spirit mentioned in Scripture is actually a feeling of unrest and depression.

Gods’ Spirit (the Holy Spirit) brings joy and peace to us.  But if we reject God we may lose the joy that the Spirit brought.  Would God continue blessing Saul with a joyful spirit while he was rebelling? Possibly God allowed Saul to be unhappy to draw him back from his rebellion.

Critics of the Bible have taught that Jesus was mistaken as to when the end times would be – the time when He would return to earth.  There is a story in Scripture of Jesus preaching to the crowds about a time in the future when He would return to earth.  Here is what He said:  “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things are fulfilled.”  (Matthew 24:34)  Jesus was teaching here that before He comes again there will be signs in the skies –the sun becoming dark, the moon not giving light, the stars falling and the powers of heaven shaken. (Matthew 24:29)  He told the crowd that when we see a fig tree putting out leaves we know that summer is near.  And so He said that like the fig tree when a future generation sees these signs in the heavens they are to know that the end is near. 

Critics say that Jesus was talking about the end of the age happening during His generation and since the end of the age didn’t occur then that Jesus’ predictions were wrong.  But the critics didn’t read the passage carefully.  Jesus didn’t say what they misinterpreted Him to say at all! These signs (sun and moon darkening, the stars falling) did not occur while our Lord was on earth, nor in that generation.  But Jesus was saying that in the future when these things do occur, then His coming at the end of the age will happen quickly.  Jesus said “When you see all these things happen, know that He is near.”(Matthew 24:33)   

Another Bible passage critics use to try to prove the Bible is in error is Matthew 16:28.  Here Jesus said:  “Truly I say unto you, there will be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom.” 

The critics say that Jesus was teaching that His coming again (the end times) would happen before some of those standing there would die.  The critics point out that since we know that the end times didn’t occur and Jesus didn’t come again during that generation, the Bible story – and Jesus’ predictions- must be in error. 

But Jesus wasn’t talking about the end of the age when He will come again, but He was talking about the Transfiguration –which occurred right after He told them about it.  If you keep reading in Matthew 17 you see that Jesus was about to take three of His disciples up on a mountain top where they would see glory shining from His face, and His person, and His clothes.  They would see Jesus in all His glory described as “the Son of man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) and God the Father declaring: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew17:5) 

These disciples had only seen Jesus in His earthly physical form.  But now they got a glimpse of Him in all His heavenly glory and in his heavenly kingdom.  They got to see another world. – a perfect and sinless and glorious world.  It must have been a powerful experience.  They (and we) are so used to our earthly bodies that it is hard for us to imagine what it will be like when we will be in heaven clothed in our heavenly bodies. 

We see here that the mistake was not on Jesus’ part, but on the part of the critics and the interpreters.  Jesus wasn’t saying that the end of the world when He would come back would happen before some of those standing there with Him lived out their lives and died.  He was saying that some there would see Him in the glory He had in His kingdom before they died.    

Our precious faith comes by hearing-hearing the Word of God- the Bible.  The Bible is all important to us because it is light for our lives-we stand on it.  God gave us this inspired Word and we can trust God to keep His Word from serious errors.  So when there are Bible passages that trouble us let’s not get discouraged.  Often we don’t have all the facts or perhaps the passage has been translated poorly.  Sometimes we can only see one side of the truth and truth is many sided.  None of us are capable of understanding all of God’s larger truth.  Often the truth is on both sides of Gods’ mysterious ways.  And Gods’ ways are past finding out!            


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Difficulties in the Bible

Difficulties in the Bible

Are there scriptures in the Bible that cause you difficulties?  Confusing passages that make you question whether every teaching in the Bible is, after all, the Word of God?  Do you ever wish you could just go through the Bible and take out those parts that you don’t agree with?

So what should we do if we have problems understanding some of these “difficult” passages in the Bible?  Should we throw up our hands and give up our belief that the Bible is Gods’ Holy Word when we run into a road block?  Some people have done that when they read passages in the Bible that they don’t like!

Where do these Biblical misunderstandings come from?  First of all, God wouldn’t be God if we could fully understand Him or His Word!  God is infinite and we are finite and when the finite tries to understand the infinite, there are bound to be difficulties.  A difficulty understanding a Bible passage does not prove that that passage is untrue.  Many of our difficulties with problem scriptures arise from our not being able to know all of the facts. 

We do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible.  These original manuscripts were copied many times with great care but naturally some human errors crept into the copies.  And when the original manuscripts were translated into English possibly some of the meanings could have been lost or altered.

The first letter in the Hebrew alphabet denotes the number “1”: and with two little points-not larger than a flyspeck- above it, that same character denotes the number “1,000”.  As you can see, a very slight error by the copyist would make a big change in the value of some of the numbers in the Bible.

Many difficulties arise not from what the Bible actually says, but from what we may interpret it to mean.  A very large share of difficulties arises from readers not noticing who is speaking.  Often the Bible simply records what others say; what good men say, what bad men say, and what angels and demons say.  If these passages are mistakenly quoted as something that is true or something that God said then we can get into trouble. 

Also the Bible is a book for all ages and for all kinds of people.  It was written in the language that is understood by all: the language of the common people, and not in the terminology of science.  If the Bible had been written in the terminology of the science of today, it would be out of date in a few years.  And our ancestors wouldn’t have understood the scientific language at all.  Also, large portions of the Bible are written in the language of poetry-the language of feeling, passion and imagination.  If a person tries to read those passages literally she/he may have problems.

Another class of difficulties arises from our defective knowledge of the history, geography and customs of Bible times.  We interpret our world and make our judgments from our twenty-first century perspectives.  Because we are greatly influenced by the modern generation we are a part of, we may not even begin to understand the mindset of the people in our Bible stories who lived out their lives in ancient cultures that were totally different from ours. 

Also we often see things from our one sided view whereas the truth is many-sided and the Bible is all-sided.  So to our narrow view, one part of the Bible seems to contradict another.  For example, we often profess to be either Calvinistic or Arminian-the Calvinists believing that God predestined everything; even our salvation, with us having a minor role- and the Arminians believing that we have free-will and choose to accept Christ or reject Him on our own with God having a minor role.

But our narrow minds often cannot take in God’s larger truth.  We want it one way or the other, and sometimes there is truth on both sides of Gods’ mysteries.  The Bible has many passages that reflect Calvinistic truth and many that reflect Arminian truth.  The truth is many-sided and Gods’ ways are past finding out!

But there are many more difficulties for those who believe that the Bible is just another book written by humans.  To a person who has this low view of Scripture you might ask:  “How do you account for all of the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible if the Bible was written by people?”  “How do you account for the unity of the sixty-six books of the Bible, written under such different circumstances and at periods of time so remote from one another?”  “How do you account for the unsearchable depths of the Bible?”  “And how do you account for the power the Bible has to change peoples’ lives, save them from their sins, and lift them up to God?  And the magic Gods’ Word has to bring joy and peace and hope to people who believe its’ words?”

So how do we approach our problems with difficult passages in the Bible?  First I think we can search for answers to our questions while keeping a humble spirit.  We might recognize the limitations of our own mind and have faith that there is a solution to our difficulty.  We can look for other scriptures in the Bible to throw light upon the scripture that is giving us problems.  Nothing explains scripture like scripture.  And of course we can study and trust and pray and ask God for wisdom to understand some of the scriptures that confuse us.  God has given us a promise in the Bible that if any of us lack wisdom we can ask God for it and He will give it to us.  (James 1:5) An amazing promise wouldn’t you say?

Psalm 119:18 reads: “Open my eyes that I may see, wondrous things from Your law.”  Not only will God open our eyes in answer to our prayers to see wonderful things out of His law, but He will also open our eyes to look straight through a difficulty that seems impenetrable before we pray. 

Next week we will continue discussing this same topic-difficulties in the Bible.  And we will take up eight or ten difficulties that have bothered or confused Christians and Bible students over the years and try to at least partially answer them.  We will discuss the first chapter of Genesis and whether it is historical and scientific.  We will discuss the antiquity of human kind according to the Bible and according to science.  And of course, where did Cain get his wife?  Why does the Bible say that God sent King Saul an “evil” spirit?  Could a God of Truth and Love send evil spirits?  Were Jesus and Paul mistaken as to the time of our Lords’ return?  And more!

If you have any difficulties or problems with certain Bible passages, please send in your questions and we will add them to the list and give them a try!  Tune in next week for the

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jesus Prays for Us

Jesus Prays for Us

It was nighttime in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus was trembling as He cried out to God in prayer.  He knew that within an hour or two He would be arrested and carried off to be humiliated and crucified. His disciples were there with Him but they kept falling asleep.  Jesus had wakened them and begged them to stay awake and pray with Him. But they had dozed off again leaving Jesus to pray alone in the darkness. Even Jesus’ body was reacting to the heaviness of His sorrow. Scripture describes it like this:  “And being in agony, He (Jesus) prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”  (Luke 22:44)

Jesus did pray for Himself on that terrible night.  But most of His prayers were for his disciples and for us!  Can you imagine, during this darkest of hours, Jesus was worrying about us?  Jesus knew that He would be arrested that night!  He knew that the time of His death had arrived.  And yet this is the time that Jesus is fervently praying for you and me!

What was it that caused Jesus to intercede for you and me instead of thinking of Himself as His death was approaching?  What was this special prayer that He prayed for us with such emotion? Let’s read Scripture and see.  Here is part of the prayer that Jesus prayed for us on that terrible night in the Garden of Gethsemane.   “I do not pray for these alone, (the disciples) but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (that’s us):  I pray that they all may be one, as You, Father are in Me and I in You.  That they (future believers) also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.  I in them and You in Me;  that they may be made perfect in unity, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  …that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:20-23, 26b)

So now you have it!  Jesus has diligently prayed that His followers in the future will all be united and dedicated to one another.  That we all may be one even like He and the Father and the Spirit are one!  That is so important to Him, so close to His heart!  He says that He give us the glory that His Father gave Him so that we may be one. Does that mean that He gives us the power and ability to love our brothers and sisters in Christ?  If He gives us His glory so that we may be united –do we use it to be one in Him?

The perfect unity that Jesus prayed would be ours is a unity that we don’t always experience.  Just when we feel that our church is united, a disagreement can pop up with one side warring against the other.   Here on earth we are so used to gossip and disagreements even among our fellow Christians. We aren’t surprised when churches split, or even when Christian families split.  Was Jesus’ prayer in vain?   

 I can never remember a time when our country (the U.S.A.) has been so divided and so stalemated.  It seems we don’t have unity on anything. Anger and rumors –in the name of Jesus?- are being spread constantly.  And it seems that some of the Christians are the very ones who are spreading the ill will that keeps the two sides from reaching any compromises or agreements.  Many have left the church because of this!  Is this what Jesus wants?

There is a better way.  Jesus would not have prayed for His followers to be one if that unity was impossible.  We read about the early Christians and we marvel at how God was with them in such power.  Miracles and healings happened every day among those early Christians and thousands came to Christ through their prayers and loving witness and their power evangelism. (Acts 2-5)  What an exciting time to be a Christian! We wonder why our churches don’t see miracles and healings like theirs did! 

But when we read about these early Christians and their miracles and healings we also read that these same early Christians loved one another and had complete unity. (Acts 4-5)  They took care of one another, fed the widows and orphans in their group and constantly prayed together.  Was God with these first Christians in such power because they had so much love for one another and such perfect unity?  Did the miracles and healings come because there was an atmosphere of love and unity and prayer in their midst?  Do we miss out on God’s power and on miracles and healings because we don’t always love one another and maintain unity? 

We are missing out on so much when we forget to live together in peace and love.  God has prepared a great banquet – a feast of love for all of us; but we need to be together as one body to receive and enjoy it.   Psalm 133:1 reads:  “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity..”  Are we missing out on that “good and pleasant” place- that paradise- because we haven’t tried hard enough to love and stay in unity?   

The early Christians were always together in prayer.  And Jesus has said that His Fathers’ House was to be a “House of Prayer”.  Their prayers seemed to help hold them together. If we pray for our enemies we can learn to love them. (Matt.5:44) 1Timothy 2:1-3 reads: 

“I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men.  For kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

We are Christ’s body and we are supposed to be one in Him. (1 Cor.12:27)  Of course when real heresy arises in the church we can not go along with that in order to keep the peace.  But so many times we separate with other Christians over minor issues.

 Scripture says that “Love covers a multitude of sin.”     Jesus’ love covers our sin and He calls us to have that same love when our Christian sister or brother sins against us.  Can we do that- be wronged and not strike back?  Can we pray with Jesus for unity in our Christian churches?  Can we let peace start with us and be the “peacemakers” (Matt.5:9) that God calls us to be?    




Saturday, July 7, 2012

Life as a Parable

Life as a Parable

A while ago, a relative of ours and a fellow who is a Christian posted a newspaper clipping on my Facebook. This article talked about the increase in the number of food stamp recipients in the U.S. during the last year. He followed this with a quote from the National Park Service regulations regarding the prohibition of feeding wild park animals. The explanation for the feeding prohibition was that the “animals would become dependent on handouts.” He wondered if there was an inconsistency in this in terms of the government’s intentions. To me, this comparison of impoverished folk as dependent animals was pretty distressing.

My first reaction was to point out that we are not animals, we are in fact, “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis1:26), but instead of responding immediately, I pondered upon the spiritual meaning of this event.  I got part of the answer the next Sunday in church. The sermon text was Matthew 13:3-17.  Although our pastor mainly discussed the seed-sowing portion of this text, I was fascinated with the rest of the passage.

Much of this passage has to do with Jesus’ response to the disciples questioning Him about why he spoke to the crowds in parables.  Like most of the Lord’s responses to questions, His answer is not straight forward.  In some ways Jesus’ answers to questioning is sometimes almost annoying.  He seldom gives us a direct answer, but forces the questioner – and us – to struggle with His response.  Interestingly, of the 183 questions asked of Jesus, he only responds directly to three of them.  In this case, He essentially tells the disciples that because the crowds “haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” they don’t understand the parables. However, the disciples have received the secrets and they do understand.  The disciples seem to accept and understand His response to their question.

So what are these “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” that the crowds didn’t have? Obviously, as Peter is soon to testify (see Matthew 16:16-17), the disciples’ have knowledge that Jesus is God and Savior, and thus they are under the influence of God’s Spirit.  In addition Jesus was teaching the primacy of love in God’s relation to humanity and to each other.  This was coupled with the Masters examples and teaching about humility.  In short, because of their association with Jesus, the disciples took on a radically different way of thinking about reality – a totally new worldview - than did the people who comprised “the crowds.” Because of this, the disciples understood the parables of Jesus, whereas to the crowds His parables were downright baffling.

We contemporary followers of Christ are also known as His disciples. However, many of us, while giving lip-service to being Christian, haven’t developed the original disciples’ Christ-centered worldview.  As a consequence, the world we live in is baffling to us. In many ways, modern life is a kind of parable which can’t easily be understood by “the crowds.”  As a consequence, there is a tendency to fall back into materialistic, rational cultural explanations in regards to the social world around us. All too often a real spiritual analysis is missing from our understanding. We have a propensity to fall back into common sense, non-Christ-centered explanations of the social world around us.

How do we avoid this and become the disciples that stand-out from “the crowds?” To begin with, we need to develop a good, working knowledge of God’s Word. Only when we become familiar with the Holy Scripture can we get to the point of being able to, as the Protestant Reformer John Calvin said, see the world through “scriptural spectacles” (Biblical eyeglasses).  That is, we are able to filter our thoughts and perceptions through our knowledge of the Bible.  This is in line with Saint Paul’s admonition; “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).   Secondly, we need to realize the awesome fact that having accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, believers are filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, and as a person, He has feelings.  We must be aware that we can stifle the work of the Spirit in our lives (I Thessalonians 5:19) or grieve Him with our sin and rebellion (Ephesians 4:30).  If we confess and repent of our sins we restore our distorted access path to the Father and are able to act in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. He, in turn, will give us knowledge and understanding of our environment and  situation.

A Christ-centered, spirit-driven worldview presents us with a radically different way of looking at our world than the one provided by our contemporary culture. Possessing this outlook, we are able to apply agape love and empathy to those folks that we encounter, while at the same time overcoming feelings of superiority for those who are less fortunate then we are.  We are able to truly see and become concerned with our neighbors, in the Biblical sense (see Luke 10:25-37) and we realize that we are indeed, our “brother’s keeper” (see Genesis 4:9-11).  God longs for us to operate in His Spirit.  What a different world this would be if only we would do so,