Legal pressures on American Christians and the church’s response

In my previous post, I discussed a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this fall regarding the refusal of a Christian to actively support homosexual “marriage.” Given the Court’s current makeup and the rulings of lower courts, it is almost certain that SCOTUS will rule against the Christian in this case, which will have far-reaching legal implications for other Christians in the United States. Now another troubling case seems certain to head to the Supreme Court, following President Trump’s ban on “transgender” individuals from service in the U.S. military. In spite of the fact that this ban was in place without a legal challenge up until October of last year, it seems possible that the Supreme Court will rule that discrimination against people who identify as “transgender” is somehow unconstitutional. Such a ruling would have a wide-ranging effect that would surely put greater legal pressure on churches and other Christian institutions to compromise. Perhaps the only thing that could weaken the Court’s position is the fact that allowing the participation of men in women’s sports as “transgender women” would make it impossible for female athletes to compete.

While there is still some uncertainty regarding these rulings and their effects, it has been apparent for decades that American culture is becoming progressively more anti-Christian, leading to increasing legal and cultural pressures on Christians. It has become increasingly apparent that a large number of people on the American political Left believe that those who hold opposing viewpoints should not be tolerated and should not even have a legal right to exist. These Leftists control much of academia, the media, and the corporate world. Their agenda is increasingly coming into the church, which means that the church does not present unified opposition to the Leftist agenda. A recent poll showed that 47 percent of young white American evangelicals believe that homosexual “marriage” should be legal; the question of whether homosexual acts should be legal does not even get asked because it is assumed that nearly everyone would say they should be. It is evident that at some point Leftists will gain enough power to fully implement their agenda, which is particularly aimed at destroying conservative, biblical Christianity for its moral values and theological dogma. Exactly when and how this will happen is not known, but in general the Left only needs control of a single branch of government to advance its agenda.

Perhaps the crisis will hit this fall, after the Court’s ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop (if that is indeed what happens). Or perhaps it will come more gradually, given that there is now a Republican president, a Republican Congress, and Republican control of most state governments. Perhaps the crisis will hit at different times for Christians who live in different states or who engage in different occupations. But the fact that only one Christian was imprisoned for refusing to sign marriage licenses for homosexual couples should be of no comfort, since the rest of us who hold the same convictions would also have been imprisoned if we had been in the same situation. It should be remembered that Kim Davis’ imprisonment was actually celebrated by then-President Obama, the mainstream media, technology executives, and large numbers of their supporters on the political Left. They made it clear that they want all who hold opposing views to be forced to recant, or to be removed from society if they refuse to renounce their beliefs. When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, in particular, no opposing viewpoints are tolerated. The fact that this attitude is considered the politically correct attitude should certainly give pause to Christians in the United States.

Given the clear direction of the political and religious situation in the United States, it is completely befuddling that American Christians, their churches, and other Christian institutions have made no plans whatsoever for what to do when the crisis hits. There is no biblical justification for lack of foresight or preparation. Of course Christians should pray and speak out, but the Bible does not promise the church protection from persecution. So far, the church’s response has been (1) to pray that the U.S. would get “turned around”; (2) to be socially and politically active in order to “take the culture back”; or (3) “they’ll just have to put us in jail.” There really has been no forward thinking or facing of the facts. American churches have also done little or nothing to enable persecuted Christians in other countries to migrate to safer places.

In the book of Acts, we find that when Christians were forced to leave their comfort zone in Jerusalem due to persecution, the subsequent scattering of Christians throughout the world turned out to be good for the growth of the church (Acts 8:4). It forced Christians to spread out to the world when they would not go voluntarily to do missionary work. In the American context, ministries which have an overseas arm could potentially transfer their assets to their foreign headquarters before they are seized by the U.S. government or lost in lawsuits. There are ample historical examples of Christians fleeing persecution as a group and establishing new Christian communities in foreign countries. Church historians tell us that all the Christians in Jerusalem fled the city together just before the outbreak of the Jewish War in AD 66; they survived the war by relocating their community to the Gentile city of Pella. Many of the early settlers in the United States itself were fleeing persecution in Europe and were searching for a place where they could worship God freely according to their conscience.

I believe it is time for the American church to start making serious plans to move their institutions, their money, and ultimately their people, overseas in anticipation of the inevitable outlawing of biblical Christianity in the United States. Churches should also prepare to move from one country to another as the world changes. The solution is not political activism, which will not reverse the long-term cultural trend, or revolution, which is both futile and unbiblical. Seeing as we have been given a legal reprieve through the election of a Republican president, Christian organizations and seminaries should start establishing overseas headquarters or campuses, and they should make plans to move all their assets overseas if necessary before they are confiscated. While such projects as new buildings on a seminary or church campus, the Ark Encounter in Kentucky, and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. are worthy and valuable, it is very questionable how long these institutions will be able to operate before the government institutes requirements with which they cannot comply. Why not invest overseas? Christians should especially look to invest in the Middle East, which the Bible reveals is the focus of end time events. Africa is another place in which the church is under-invested, in spite of containing many Christian-friendly countries. Latin America is an easier and closer place for Americans to go, although the level of religious freedom in Latin American countries varies and has been decreasing.

A parallel could be drawn between the situation of Christians in present-day America and the situation of Jews in Germany in the 1930s. As the Nazi party rose to power, their intentions to persecute and kill Jews became ever clearer, yet only some Jews fled, or were able to flee, and some waited until it was very late in the game. Those who remained suffered terribly. Hitler would have killed every last Jew in Europe had the Allies not liberated his concentration camps (in God’s providence). Overall, one could say that the Jewish community in Germany, and in Europe as a whole, lacked any sort of master plan to enable them all to flee before Hitler’s pogrom began. Nor is it disingenuous to make a comparison to the Holocaust: there have been many times and places from the first century up to the present day in which governments have attempted to exterminate all Bible-believing Christians and churches using the most horrific imaginable means of torture and mass murder. The Bible makes clear that Christians will again be terribly persecuted at the end of the present age (Rev 17:6; 18:24; 19:2).

The problem for the church in the United States is not just legal pressure, but also cultural assimilation. The church has for a long time been losing its young people to the allures of American culture, while those who have stayed in the church have adopted many of the culture’s beliefs and practices in contradiction of biblical teaching. On the other hand, it could be argued that Christians are still having a significant restraining influence in American culture and politics, and that they should largely stay put while they are still able to have this influence. While there is room for debate regarding when it will be appropriate or necessary for Christians to make the uncomfortable decision to migrate from the United States, it should be apparent that that day will come, and it is therefore wise to prepare for it.

The Other Shoe to Fall on Homosexual “Rights”

Anthony Kennedy, the octogenarian senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and the Court’s swing vote, was widely expected to announce his retirement this past Monday. Unfortunately, Kennedy decided not to retire. His continued presence on the Court is likely to have huge negative ramifications for Christians in the United States, given a case that the Court decided to hear in its fall term, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111.

I believe that the reason why Justice Kennedy decided not to retire is precisely because he wants to rule in October against Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop Lakewood, Colorado, and a grandfather of three. Phillips is a “cake artist” who creates spectacular cake designs. He also is a committed Christian who refuses requests to create cakes to celebrate Halloween, or to bake with alcohol. When a homosexual couple asked him in 2012 to create a designer cake to celebrate their upcoming wedding, Phillips refused. He said he would be happy to sell the couple baked goods for sale in his shop; he just would not create a custom cake to celebrate their wedding. He said he does not discriminate against homosexuals, but he also does not use his artistic talents to promote messages which are contrary to his religious beliefs. While the homosexual couple could have bought a cake from another bakery—in fact, another bakery made them a cake with a rainbow design for free—they decided to sue Mr. Phillips in order to punish him and other people of faith like him. All of the lower courts have ruled against Masterpiece Cakeshop, which makes it likely that the five socially liberal justices on the Supreme Court will follow the same line of reasoning. Ever since the incident occurred, Phillips has faced serious harassment, loss of business, and even death threats against him and his family.

Justice Kennedy had been signaling for months that he would retire at the end of the court’s summer term; supposedly he decided at the last moment not to do so. I suspect that Kennedy tricked his conservative colleagues into thinking he would retire in order to get them to schedule the case against Masterpiece Cakeshop for the Court’s fall term. Kennedy is afraid that his homosexual (LGBTQ) rights agenda will be reversed by his replacement, and he wants to force everyone in the country to conform to this agenda before he retires by means of a very restrictive, precedent-setting ruling. That ruling will state explicitly that the court-ordered prohibition on “discrimination” against homosexuals (really, an objection to their lifestyle) supersedes First Amendment freedom of religion. Then a row of dominoes will start to fall, as homosexuals demand admission into Christian colleges and seminaries, Christian non-profit groups, church membership, and even church pastorates. Pastors could be punished for refusing to perform weddings for homosexuals. Homosexuals will also have the power to close Christian businesses by requesting services which they know will be refused, and then having the courts fine these businesses until they are bankrupted. In addition, biblical preaching and teaching against homosexuality could be considered criminal hate speech, and Christian counselors could be punished for telling their clients that homosexual acts are sinful. After all, Mr. Phillips is being punished not for actively opposing homosexuality, but merely for refusing to support it.

It should be noted that the Courts have never interpreted anti-discrimination ordinances as broadly as they are now interpreting them with reference to homosexuals. Many churches have never allowed women to be pastors, elders, or deacons, and some Christian seminaries still do not admit female students or accept female faculty members. The courts have never ruled that women must be admitted to these positions because of laws (or court rulings) against gender discrimination. Nor have the courts ruled that a baker in Michigan would be discriminating against Ohioans if he refused to create a cake to celebrate Ohio State’s victory over the University of Michigan. Even on the issue of racial discrimination, a baker who does not refuse service to people because of race but declines to create a custom cake with a “Black Lives Matter” message would not be punished by the courts, since we have a right to free speech and are not compelled to promote controversial political messages. There is a different agenda in play on the issue of homosexual rights which makes different reasoning and standards apply to that single issue than to any other issue. This is because the appropriateness of homosexuality, unlike the existence of the female sex, the existence of different races, or the suitability of a sports team, is at its root a religious/spiritual issue. The goal of homosexual advocates is not merely to gain legal and social acceptance, as their agenda was once presented. Homosexual advocates are really seeking conversions—first, an ideological conversion (requiring a change in religion for some), but also a conversion of lifestyle. The ultimate goal of the homosexual movement is to create homosexual feelings in everyone by (1) teaching that homosexual desires and acts are a good thing which should be accepted and celebrated; (2) presenting images of homosexuals and homosexual romance throughout the media and in public settings (which those who have been indoctrinated will view with admiration); and (3) teaching children from about the supposed goodness of homosexuality from their earliest ages, and encouraging or forcing them to experiment with homosexuality (in order to change their natural desires). In other words, homosexuals are promoting their lifestyle as the superior one, with the aim of making everyone “LGBTQ” and not having any straight people around. Perhaps few advocates would say this outright, but it is clear from their activism that this is what they are doing.

Biblical Christianity is the main obstacle to the acceptance and propagation of homosexuality in Western society; therefore, it has become the primary target. Islam is sometimes condemned by homosexual advocates for its intolerance of homosexuals, although it is more often celebrated because of its intolerance of Christianity. With regard to the legal issues, judges have become theologians, taking sides in this spiritual battle which, at its very core, pits biblical Christianity against its opponents. Liberal judges and activists are seeking to force conversions to their side, not just in ideology but also in practice. They show no tolerance for what they view as despicable heresy, and they seek to censor and suppress it. If the desired laws are not passed by Congress or ratified by the states, then it is up to the courts to “protect” the homosexual agenda by prohibiting opposition to it. Homosexual “rights” are seen as a person’s most basic and fundamental legal rights, which means that all of one’s other rights may be taken away for refusal to support the homosexual agenda.

Given what is happening today, with the prospect of the loss of legal status for Christians in the United States, the significant question for Christians is how we ought to respond. This will be the subject of my next post.

Should Christians tithe?

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It is common in some Christian circles, particularly in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, for pastors to teach that the Bible commands Christians to give a tenth of their income to the church—a practice which is called “tithing.” The word “tithe,” like the Hebrew and Greek words which it translates in the Bible, means “to give a tenth.” In the modern American context, references to tithing in the Bible are assumed to be a ten percent income tax. When practiced in American churches, this is usually reinterpreted as a ten percent tax on net income, since the government takes such a large percentage of one’s gross income. This Christian interpretation of tithing was pragmatically adopted by Joseph Smith when he founded the Mormon religion in the 1830s. Smith made giving ten percent of one’s income mandatory, and Mormons today must release their annual tax returns to LDS officials in order to prove that their giving equals ten percent of their income. While the Mormon example is extreme legalism, many Christian pastors do teach that Christians ought to give ten percent of their income to the church. However, the modern American context is far different from the milieu of the biblical world, and in fact tithing was something different than most Americans assume it was.

The commands to tithe in the Old Testament were not interpreted by the Jews as an income tax. In the first century AD there were virtually no independent farmers in Israel, only tenants for landowners (cf. Matt 21:33; Mark 12:1). This is because the tithing requirement in the Mosaic Law was understood as a tax on agricultural produce, which meant that only farmers had to pay tithes, and revenue gained from other occupations was exempt. Jews therefore generally avoided the occupation of farming in the first century AD. The priestly class derived much of its revenue from a half-shekel annual head tax for the support of the temple (Matt 17:24). This was based on a one-third shekel tax which originated in the time of Nehemiah (Neh 10:32). (A half-shekel head tax was paid once when Moses numbered the people [Exod 38:25-26], but was not made an annual tax at that time.) The priests also made a significant amount of money by overcharging the people for currency exchange and sacrificial animals, a practice which Jesus condemned and sought to stop (Matt 21:12-13; John 2:14-16). In addition, small amounts of agricultural produce were tithed (Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42), and the priests received a share of meat and grain from sacrifices and offerings (Lev 6:14-18; 10:12-15; 1 Cor 9:13). People also made voluntary monetary contributions to the temple treasury of whatever amount they desired (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

Reading the Old Testament, it is clear that the tithe was indeed a tax on agricultural revenue, not a tax on income or profit. Although there are biblical examples of people giving to God a tenth of all of their revenue (Gen 14:20; 28:22; Luke 18:12), the commands to tithe in the Mosaic Law specifically give instructions to tithe agricultural produce (Lev 27:30-32; Deut 12:17; 14:22-23). All of the examples of tithes paid under the Law are tithes of agricultural produce (2 Chr 31:5-6; Neh 10:37; 13:5, 12; Mal 3:10). And the tithe was strictly on revenue (ten percent of one’s harvest), not on profit (ten percent of the money earned by selling excess produce). The reference to “tithes and offerings” in Malachi 3:8 does not refer to a ten percent income tax, plus voluntary contributions beyond ten percent, as it is often interpreted in modern churches. Tithes were ten percent of one’s crop, and offerings were animals brought to the temple for sacrifice (cf. Deut 18:1).

It is often asked why the New Testament never commands Christians to give a tenth of their income to the church, nor does it describe a practice of tithing in Christian churches. Part of the reason is that the tithe was mandated as part of a legal system in ancient Israel, and these tithes were intended to support the nation’s clerical class (who also had administrative and judicial functions) and the tabernacle/temple. The church does not have a tribe of Levi or a central temple to support. In other words, tithing was part of Israel’s civil law, and the church, as a supranational entity, is not governed by the civil law of ancient Israel. From a dispensational viewpoint, Christians have been freed from the requirements of the Law (1 Cor 9:20; Gal 5:1). The interpretation of Malachi 3:7-12 as a commandment for Christians to tithe fails to recognize that this instruction was given to Israelites who were bound by the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, and that Christians live under a different dispensation. Thus, theologians usually argue that tithing is not a biblical requirement for Christians—an argument that is often in disagreement with the pragmatic, traditional teaching of pastors in these theologians’ own churches. But the whole question of whether Christians should tithe (as in the title of this article) wrongly assumes that biblical tithes were a ten percent income tax, when they were not. This is the more fundamental reason why the New Testament does not discuss tithing in the context of the Christian church—giving a tenth of one’s income was not part of Jewish culture, and therefore it was not a practice adopted from Judaism by the early church.

Under the Old Testament economy, tithing was a tax—a legal requirement (Lev 27:30). You had to give ten percent of your crop to the priests and Levites whether you wanted to or not, and God would punish you if you did not do it (Mal 3:8-11). Under the New Testament economy, giving a set amount is not compulsory, since God wants us to give voluntarily and cheerfully (2 Cor 9:5, 7), and the Mosaic Law has been fulfilled in Christ (Rom 10:4). The focus in the church should be on having the proper heart attitude, rather than fulfilling an external standard—although the New Testament strongly encourages giving, and it promises blessing to the givers (2 Cor 9:6). It also establishes the principle that full-time ministers should be supported by God’s people (1 Cor 9:14; 1 Tim 5:17) and that the church should aid the destitute among their number (1 Tim 5:3).

So how much should Christians give to the church? The New Testament only lays out general principles, which leaves the question open ended. Most Christians find it helpful to set a goal or standard for their regular giving, so as to be consistent. Many Christians, especially new believers, find that the OT pattern of tithing, reinterpreted in a modern context, provides them with a good baseline figure. There is nothing wrong with someone setting a personal standard of giving ten percent of his net income based on the OT pattern, and it can even be argued that this is a valid practical application of the OT (recognizing that there are multiple ways in which the OT tithing principle may be applied). Giving ten percent has proven feasible for the vast majority of people; and if everyone in the church gives ten percent, this is usually enough to pay pastors a full-time salary, to buy and maintain a building, and to support missionaries. But it is wrong for a pastor to tell church members that God requires them to give ten percent to the church, and it is also wrong for people in the church to feel that they need not give more than ten percent. The following is a list of some New Testament principles regarding giving:

  1. Giving must be done with a willing heart. According to 2 Corinthians 9:7, it is wrong to give with a bad attitude, or out of obligation (there is no NT legal requirement to give to the church). According to Philippians 4:18-19, giving should be an act of worship, and worship must be voluntary and out of a good heart to be pleasing to God. Giving should be a natural outward expression of a heart that is dedicated to God (2 Cor 8:5), not the drudgery of doing what one must in response to guilt and pressure.
  2. Giving should be in proportion to the need. In Acts 4:35, the money collected by the church was distributed where there were needs within the church. In Acts 11:29-30, a collection was taken up to help poor churches that were struggling during a famine. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and Romans 15:25-27, Paul took up a special collection for saints in Jerusalem who were struggling financially. In Philippians 4:16, the Philippians sent gifts to Paul when he had a need. Paul states as a general principle that those Christians or churches who have a need at a particular time should be helped by those who have enough, and that those who have been helped should return the favor when the tables are turned (2 Cor 8:13-15).
  3. Giving should not be to impress others or to try to look as spiritual as somebody else. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for giving in order to get recognition, and He asserted that people who are recognized on earth for their giving will not be rewarded in heaven (Matt 6:2). In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira were killed by God because they lied about the amount they were giving in order to appear as spiritual as Barnabas, who had given the full sale price of his field to the church (Acts 4:36-37). While the sin for which they were killed was lying, this sin was motivated by the sin of seeking recognition for their beneficence. It is wise to give anonymously as much as this is possible (Matt 6:3-4).
  4. Giving should be in proportion to one’s financial means. This principle is stated in 1 Corinthians 16:2 and Acts 11:29. Rich people should typically give larger monetary amounts than poor people. In several instances in the NT, in fact, some Christians simply became destitute and could do nothing but accept gifts from others who had more. However, in practice, poor people often give a higher percentage of their income than the rich. The Philippian Christians were relatively poor, yet the Philippians gave more to Paul than any other church, and they were commended for it (Phil 4:14-19; cf. 2 Cor 8:1-5).
  5. Giving should not necessarily be limited to our superfluity. Of course, discernment is needed because there are times when excessive giving can be irresponsible or foolish, and can bring grief upon ourselves and our families. Very, very few Christians are called to sell all their possessions and literally give everything away. Yet Jesus demands that we not hold anything back from Him (Luke 14:33; 18:18-23; Acts 2:45). When a widow gave all the money that she had to live on, Jesus commended her instead of calling her a fool (Mark 12:41-44). In 2 Corinthians 8:3, Paul commended the Macedonian churches for voluntarily giving more money than they were able to spare. There is a sense in which we are hardly giving at all if not sacrificially, for we are giving things to God that do not cost us anything—they are just our excess.
  6. No one is too poor to give. The story of the widow’s mites illustrates this, as does the giving of the Macedonian churches (Luke 21:1-4; 2 Cor 8:3; Phil 4:14-19). In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul commanded “each one” to give (for a special collection) when the church gathered on Sunday. On the other hand, there were times when impoverished saints in the Jerusalem church had to accept large financial gifts from other churches, rather than giving to those other churches. Still, the OT required the Levites to give a tithe of the tithes they received (Num 18:26; Neh 10:38), and it is reasonable to expect those who receive money from the church to give a portion back to the Lord’s work.
  7. The eternal rewards that God will give to us will be in proportion to what we give to Him. This principle is stated in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, which is in a context that speaks primarily of monetary giving, but also includes other forms of gifts to the Lord. The one exception is that gifts given to receive recognition will not be rewarded in the judgment (Matt 6:2-4). It is important to give much, because our eternal reward is great (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:17), and is well worth the price of perishable goods (Matt 6:19-21; Luke 16:9). The poor have as much opportunity for reward as the rich in the matter of giving, since reward is based primarily on proportion, sacrifice, and non-recognition, rather than on dollar amounts (Luke 21:1-4).
  8. There is a need to give. The New Testament presents giving as the norm in the church, and regular gifts (not just special offerings) are required for a church to operate according to New Testament principles (1 Tim 5:9-10, 17-18). Believers also have a need to give in order to receive God’s eternal rewards and His (spiritual and physical) blessings in this present life.

The idea that tithing was an income tax has given rise to two common errors. One is the idea that the Bible requires Christians to give ten percent of their (net) income to the church. The New Testament never commands this, and a tithe on income is not even commanded in the Old Testament. The second common error is the idea that people have done their duty if they give ten percent of their income to the church, and the rest is theirs to do as they please. In truth, everything we have is a stewardship entrusted to us by God, and giving in accordance with one’s means (1 Cor 16:2) or as one has purposed in his heart (2 Cor 9:7) does not limit us to ten percent. There is no set amount that the New Testament requires Christians to give—there is no minimum required gift in order to be in good standing with God (we are under grace, not under law), nor is there a maximum ceiling on what God has a right to receive. The New Testament focuses more on one’s spirit and attitude as he gives, and on the blessedness of giving (Acts 20:35). Christians should be taught to have the correct theological perspective on giving, and to give with the proper motivations, rather than being burdened with a mandatory church income tax of ten percent.

Edom’s heir, Edom’s wrath

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And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel. So they departed from him and returned to their own land. (2 Kings 3:26-27, NKJV)

When the king of Moab realized he was losing the battle, he and 700 swordsmen tried to break through and attack the king of Edom, but they failed. So he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him up as a burnt sacrifice on the wall. There was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland. (2 Kings 3:26-27, NET Bible)

The verses quoted above are a terse conclusion to a chapter which describes a war involving Israel, Moab, Edom, and Judah. The above verses have long been a subject of controversy because they may be misread to mean that Mesha, the Moabite king, killed his own firstborn son as a human sacrifice to his god (Chemosh), and that this pagan god responded with an outburst of wrath against Israel, forcing the Israelite army to flee. Indeed, the translation of ‎קֶצֶף־גָּדוֹל as “an outburst of divine anger” by the NET Bible seems to accommodate this interpretation (the NKJV “great indignation” is better).‎ Such an interpretation is entirely foreign to biblical theology, which always presents pagan gods as false gods, i.e., as fictions. But then what does 2 Kings 3:26-27 describe?

The background of this story is that Jehoram has just replaced his father Ahab (and brother Ahaziah) as king over Israel. During Ahab’s reign, Moab had paid tribute to Israel, since Ahab was divinely granted extraordinary military success, particularly against Aram (Syria). But when Ahab died, Moab rebelled. Jehoram understood that Israel’s army was too weak to attack Moab on its own, so he appealed to Judah for help. King Jehoshaphat of Judah, who had a very large army (2 Chr 17:10-19), agreed to go with him. Jehoshaphat is the kingpin in this war, although his forces seem to occupy a reserve role and basically stay out of frontline combat.

When Jehoshaphat brought his forces to go to battle against Moab, the king of Edom came with him, with an Edomite army (v. 9). The armies also passed through Edomite territory to attack (v. 8). Edom’s army had to go to war whenever Judah went to war because Edom was a vassal state of Judah in those days.[1] This relationship probably went all the way back to David’s annihilation of Edom in 1 Chronicles 18:12-13. Second Kings 8:20 says Edom rebelled from under the hand of Judah in the days of Jehoshaphat’s son Joram, indicating that they were subject to Judah during Jehoshaphat’s reign. This also explains how Jehoshaphat could build a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber (1 Kgs 22:47-48), which is in the land of Edom (1 Kgs 9:26).

Before the battle began, the armies of Judah, Israel, and Edom encountered serious trouble when their water supplies ran out in the desert. At that point, Jehoshaphat called for Elisha, who prophesied that God would supply them with water, and that Yahweh would “deliver the Moabites into your hand. And ye shall smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones” (vv. 18b-19).

The next morning, the Moabites were tricked by a mirage into approaching the allied armies carelessly. The army of Israel counterattacked and “smote the Moabites” (v. 24). Israel then proceeded to fulfill Elisha’s prophecy by beating down Moab’s cities, marring every good piece of land, stopping up all the wells and springs, and felling every good tree. The last stronghold in the land was Kir-hareseth, which is where the king of Moab and his army gathered for their last stand. As the Israelite slingers began to break down the wall of the city, Mesha, the king of Moab, realized that he was in desperate straits.

The king of Edom plays a pivotal role in the events which follow. It is significant that in v. 26, when the king of Moab was in serious trouble, he tried to break through the Israelite army to reach the king of Edom—apparently not caring about the possibility of his avenue of retreat being cut off. He felt that if he could somehow break through to the king of Edom, he would be rescued, and the attack would be broken. It is noteworthy that Mesha specifically wanted to break through to the king of Edom, and not simply to the Edomites generally. Evidently the king of Moab had previously captured the king of Edom’s firstborn son, and was holding him as a hostage. Because the Edomites were forced to accompany Jehoshaphat, they would not have been enthusiastic about the war in the first place, and a threat to kill the crown prince of Edom would make the Edomite army turn against the Israelite army, thereby ending the attack.

After Mesha’s attempt to break through to the king of Edom was unsuccessful, he retreated back into the city and performed an extreme act of desperation. His whole land had just been completely destroyed, and the Israelite army was about to break into his sole remaining city and kill both him and his army. This desperate situation prompted Mesha’s despicable act in v. 27. Mesha took the the king of Edom’s oldest son onto the height of the wall and burned his body (alive?) in full view of the attacking armies—which is what is meant by “offered (lit., ‘presented’) him as a burnt-offering.” When the Edomites saw that Israel’s assault had resulted in the death of the heir to their throne, they became enraged with Israel to the point of launching an attack, forcing the Israelite army to withdraw immediately to avoid a major battle. After all, Edom had come along involuntarily, and now they felt that the war had occasioned this great horror against them. It was Israel that had requested this war, and it was Israel’s interests that were at stake in it—so Edom was furious with Israel. Since the Edomites and the Judeans were merely representing the interests of Israel, they also withdrew from the land of Moab when the Israelites withdrew. Thus, Moab’s rebellion against Israel was successful, and the Moabites regained their independence.

In defense of this interpretation, note the ambiguity of the pronouns in v. 27: “the king of Edom” is the last person mentioned before this verse, while “the king of Moab” is second-to-last. Thus, “his oldest son” could refer either to Mesha’s oldest son or to the king of Edom’s oldest son—but the latter is the closest antecedent, even though Mesha is the subject of the verbs in these verses. Thus, based on the grammar, it is not unlikely or implausible that the king of Edom’s son is referenced here.[2] Note that the text does not say “his own firstborn son,” which is the phrasing that would normally be used to eliminate ambiguity, were the text referring to the king of Moab’s son. It is also noteworthy that Amos 2:1 says Moab “burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime,” which appears to be a reference to the events of v. 27—the crown prince was considered a co-regent.

Other interpretations of this episode are unsatisfactory. The usual interpretation is that the king of Moab sacrificed his son to his god Chemosh. There are then several different methods of explaining the verse. One is to say that Israel became very afraid when they saw the lengths to which the king of Moab would resort to win the battle. However, it would seem that Israel would be happy to see the king of Moab’s son be killed, and it would not weaken their military position in the least. However, if Mesha killed the king of Edom’s firstborn son, that would make a huge difference in the story.

Another explanation is that Israel became very afraid of the wrath of Chemosh when Mesha did this despicable deed. However, the text says that actual wrath came upon Israel, not just great fear.

Finally, some say that the wrath of Chemosh really did come upon Israel. Of course, there never was such a god as Chemosh, who was a mere figment of the Moabite imagination, but there were demonic forces behind the Moabite religion (1 Cor 10:19-20). Since the Israelites were idolatrous, some speculate that demonic wrath could very well have come upon them, and Yahweh would not necessarily save them from it. After all, Elisha’s prophecy had already been fulfilled, and the only thing that was left to accomplish was complete annihilation of the remaining Moabites, which Yahweh had not commanded. However, there is not a word in this chapter about the god Chemosh, nor does the text say that the king of Moab was offering his son to Chemosh. The main point in the text is that the king of Edom’s oldest son was killed horrifically in full view of the attackers. He may have been sacrificed to a pagan deity, or perhaps “offered him as a burnt-offering” is just a way of saying that Mesha bound him, cut him open, and burned him to death on a platform. The Moabite Stone makes no mention of the king of Moab sacrificing his son to appease Chemosh, as we would surely expect if that were what actually happened.[3] It is also questionable whether God would actually allow demonic forces to turn the tide of a human battle so dramatically, as if to vindicate such a despicable deed; the Bible always presents God as the one who controls the outcome of battles (1 Sam 17:47; Prov 21:31).

Thus, the interpretation of 2 Kings 3:27 that is most consistent with the context and which best accounts for the actual words in the text is that the king of Moab killed and burned the king of Edom’s firstborn son, and that the Edomites responded with great wrath against Israel for the death of their hostage. Other interpretations do not follow the nearest antecedent of “his son” and do not adequately account for other information in the text, nor do they comport with biblical theology. The best translation of 2 Kings 3:27 is as follows: Then he took his oldest son who should have reigned in his place, and burned him as a sacrificial victim on the wall. And there was great indignation against Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.

 

[1] It may be asked why this passage (2 Kgs 3:9) places a king in Edom, when 1 Kings 22:47 and 2 Kings 8:20 say there was no king in Edom in those days. However, the text of 1 Kings 22:47 gives the answer: “a deputy was king.” There was a “king” in Edom, but since he was subservient to Judah, he was not a true sovereign.

[2] The Bible contains many potentially ambiguous pronouns, whose antecedents must be determined by context as well as grammar. See 2 Chronicles 3:1 (“where he appeared unto David his father”), Matthew 27:3 (“when he saw that he was condemned”), etc.

[3] The famous Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone) evidently was written sometime after the death of Jehoram. It is a celebration of Mesha’s victories over Israel. The Mesha Stele portrays Omri and his unnamed son as oppressors of Moab for many years, prior to Mesha’s recovery of Moabite independence. It is significant for naming Yahweh as the God of Israel, and for noting how the Gadites had lived in Ataroth since ancient times (cf. Num 32:34). It gives the round number of 40 years as the length of time in which Omri’s dynasty oppressed Moab (the Bible gives 12 years for Omri’s reign, 22 years for Ahab’s, 2 years for Ahaziah’s, and 12 years for Jehoram’s, for a total of 48 years, minus the number of years after Moab broke free from Israel partway through Jehoram’s reign). Many other biblical places are mentioned in the inscription, which is written in a language very close to biblical Hebrew. This inscription is a testimony to the accuracy of the Bible’s historical record, and it is one of many extrabiblical texts that have prevented intelligent but anti-Christian critics from dismissing the Bible as a fairy tale.

The March for Science

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Scientists around the world today are participating in the “March for Science,” holding banners such as “Science – A Candle in the Dark” and “Science is the Answer.” Although this event coincides with Earth Day, the planning for it began at the anti-Trump Women’s March in January. The March for Science will be followed by a “Week of Action” from April 23 to 29 that will include voter registration drives and asking people to sign an environmental voter pledge. The message behind these rallies is that science represents objective truth which should shape one’s (supposedly) subjective religious and political beliefs. Essentially, science becomes one’s religion and politics. Some observations:

  1. The scientific method cannot be used to prove itself—that is circular reasoning—nor can it give absolute certainty. We all start with foundational beliefs; faith in God and His Word is entirely coherent and rational, and gives absolute certainty where science cannot.
  2. Scientific dogma is constantly changing; good theories are refined, bad theories are overturned, and new theories are being put forth. The history of science shows how dangerous it is to label one generation’s understanding of a particular scientific theory as unchangeable, absolute truth.
  3. There is a huge difference between what is observed in science and how these observations are applied to theology, history, and politics. Science itself does not teach that there is no God, that the earth is billions of years old, that life evolved, that the United States should join a climate treaty, or that nuclear weapons are a threat to world peace. These are all interpretations that some scientists make on the basis of reasoning outside of their own scientific observations. Many of the questions involved are clearly outside the domain of science (e.g., “What does Genesis 1 teach?” “What are the political and economic costs of reducing carbon emissions?” “What is the deterrence value of nuclear weapons?”). Scientists have lost a lot of credibility by casting as scientific dogma conclusions that properly belong to the realm of other disciplines. In particular, mainstream scientists have created powerful enemies for themselves by joining the political and religious left, and calling their political and religious views “science.”
  4. As is typical throughout academia, the majority opinion, that of the so-called “mainstream” scientists, is represented as “the” scientific truth, when in fact there are many scientists who strongly disagree with the mainstream view on issues such as evolution, the age of the earth, climate change, and vaccines. Scientists lose credibility by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of scientific debate, and by casting the majority opinion as the absolute, unquestionable truth. Historically, science has made the greatest progress when it has allowed freedom of research and thought, while its progress has been most hindered when it refuses to allow any deviation from current scientific dogma.
  5. While science can improve physical quality of life, it cannot meet man’s deepest needs, which are spiritual. History shows that technological development does not improve the condition of the human heart, or even make people happier or more satisfied. While science has produced many good and beneficial discoveries, it is limited to the physical sphere and therefore cannot help man spiritually. Only God can do that.

The earth’s design for life

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A couple of weeks ago, there was a widely-disseminated news story about the discovery of seven “Earth-like” planets orbiting a distant star, Trappist-1, which supposedly proves that there is nothing special about man or the earth, which supposedly proves the existence of alien life, which supposedly proves that there is no Creator and the Bible is false. This is not the first time a discovery of an “Earth-like” planet has been announced; such announcements, complete with bogus “artist’s concepts,” have been coming out for about ten years now, with some of the more recent being Kepler 452b, Proxima b, and Kepler 186f. The first supposed “Earth-like” planet was Gliese 581c, whose discovery was announced in 2007; within a couple of months, astronomers realized that Gliese 581c could not support life, but they found another planet in the same system, Gliese 581d, that they said was just right for life; after Gliese 581d proved to be too cold to support life, the discovery of the better-situated Gliese 581g was announced in 2010, with one astronomer telling the press that “the chances of life on this planet are almost 100 percent.” Further investigation, however, showed by 2014 that both Gliese 581d and Gliese 581g were mere illusions and do not even exist. News stories about the discovery of planets where life could possibly exist date back to 1996, shortly after the first extrasolar planets were discovered. The two planets heralded at that time were not Earth-like and proved to have serious problems for habitability; the one deemed most suitable for life was estimated to have a surface temperature of 185°F, and is a gas giant eight times the mass of Juipter.

Though the latest planets were discovered through a telescope in Chile, many of the new planetary discoveries have been made using NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which was built expressly to look for Earth-like planets in hopes of finding evidence for alien life. Many of the missions of NASA and the European Space Agency now have a theological aim—specifically, the aim of supporting atheism. The director of astrophysics at NASA said when Kepler was launched, “Kepler will answer a profound and fundamental question about our place in the universe”—a theological question. The meaning of this statement is that NASA wants to use Kepler to support their deeply held belief that life and the universe were not the product of special creation, the earth is not unique, and the same processes which led to the formation of the earth and the evolution of life on the earth led to the formation of innumerable other earths with life elsewhere in the universe.

It may be asked, however, does the discovery of “Earth-like” planets imply that there is life outside the earth? The answer is a resounding “No!”—first of all, because the earth is uniquely designed for life (hence, these planets are not truly “Earth-like”); and, secondly, because life cannot arise by evolutionary processes.

The earth is the ideal size to produce the perfect gravitational force necessary for life. Studies of astronauts have shown how zero-gravity impairs human health; presumably gravity that is too low or too high would also be harmful to human health. In addition, a planet that is too small, like Mercury, will not have enough gravity to hold an atmosphere in place; gases will simply escape into outer space. And an atmosphere is needed not only to have breathable air, but also to provide pressure to hold liquid water in place and prevent it from escaping; the low atmospheric pressure on Mars causes water to boil away. A planet that is too large, such as Jupiter, will trap light gases that are poisonous to life. A thick atmosphere and strong gravity will also create surface air pressures that are oppressive for life. For these reasons, scientists look for planets that are similar in size to the earth when searching for extraterrestrial life. The seven recently-discovered planets do, indeed, appear to be similar in size to the earth.

Venus is similar in size to the earth, but its atmosphere consists mainly of greenhouse (polyatomic) gases which render its surface temperatures unbearably hot for life. The earth’s atmosphere, by contrast, has exactly the right composition for life. It has just the right oxygen/nitrogen ratio to maintain suitable air temperatures and support life processes. It also has just the right amounts of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ozone for life to exist. It contains just the right amount of greenhouse gases (less than 1%), so as to retain some warmth but not too much. The atmosphere sustains life, regulates the climate, and protects life from harmful radiation. There is no other known planet with abundant free oxygen. With regard to the seven newly-discovered planets, the authors of the study concluded that they probably formed far away from Trappist-1 and then migrated closer to the star, which means that their composition is probably more similar to planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus, than to the earth—in other words, they likely do not have abundant oxygen.

Not just the composition of the earth’s atmosphere is important, but also the composition of the its crust. The earth’s crust contains minerals such as iron, calcium, and sodium that are essential for life; other planets lack one or more essential minerals.

The earth has the ideal axis of rotation to have the widest possible zone of habitability between the poles. It has the ideal rotation period for the length of the day and night, keeping nights from getting too cold, and days from getting too hot. And the earth has the ideal period of revolution around the sun, so that its seasons are the perfect length (winters and summers are neither too long nor too short). Critically, its orbit is close to being circular; if its orbit were strongly elliptical, temperatures would be too hot for part of the year and too cold for part of the year. While the earth’s orbit takes it slightly closer to the sun during fall and winter in the northern hemisphere, the climactic effect is offset by the greater amount of water in the southern hemisphere.

The most striking feature of the earth, from a scientific point of view, is its abundant liquid water at the surface. Temperature and atmospheric conditions must be just right, and also very stable, in order for water to exist in liquid form. Further, just the right amount of water is present so that the earth is neither too dry nor completely covered with water, and land surfaces receive regular rainfall though the hydrologic cycle. Liquid water has not been observed as presently existing in significant quantities anywhere else in the universe. This is significant, because scientists believe life cannot exist without water. The search for extraterrestrial life is therefore a search, first and foremost, for a planet or moon with the right conditions for liquid water to exist. But not only does the earth have water, its water is suitable for life because the earth’s crust has the right blend of minerals (e.g., the oceans are not too saline for life to exist).

Having a planet with abundant water, of just the right size, just the right atmosphere, the ideal axis of rotation, the ideal rotation period, and the ideal period of revolution is not enough to support life. Life on the earth is dependent upon the sun’s energy to provide warmth and to allow organisms to convert sunlight into food through the process of photosynthesis. The earth is situated an ideal distance from the sun to keep it the perfect temperature for life (i.e., a temperature where liquid water exists in abundance and is not too hot). The case of Trappist-1, the star which the seven newly-discovered planets were found orbiting, is much different. Trappist-1 is a dwarf star, only one-twelfth the size of the sun. Scientists believe that at least some of the seven planets are the right distance from Trappist-1 to potentially have liquid water (i.e., the surface temperature may be between the freezing point and the boiling point). However, the surface temperature of a planet is determined not just by its distance from a star, but also by the composition of its atmosphere. Since scientists have never found a planet with a diatomic atmosphere like the earth’s, speculation that the newly-discovered planets may have such an atmosphere has no basis in observational science.

The sun, crucially, provides abundant light for life on the earth. However, the light from Trappist-1 on the newly-discovered planets is only about 1/200th the strength of the sun’s light on the earth—something similar to a permanent twilight, and certainly not enough light to support the earth’s ecosystems. The light from Trappist-1 is also much redder than the sun’s light, which results in even weaker photosynthesis. In addition, because the planets are so close to Trappist-1, they do not rotate, but rather are “gravitationally locked” or “tidally synchronized,” meaning that one side is always facing the star and the other side is always facing away. The result is a very uneven distribution of temperature, with half of the planet being very cold and very dark, the brightest part of the planet being very hot, and only a dim sliver of the planet with a pleasant temperature. However, that small zone with a pleasant temperature would likely be constantly beset by powerful winds.

A larger problem with dwarf stars like Trappist-1 is that they are usually variable stars whose energy output is very inconsistent. This means that a planet orbiting one those stars would alternate from being frozen solid (when the star’s energy output wanes) to being burning hot (when the star’s energy output increases). In addition, M-dwarf stars (the type where most of the new planets are being discovered) periodically emit powerful flares of far greater intensity than any solar flare. Since planets have to be very close to dwarf stars in order to have surface temperatures which could allow for liquid water, the effect of these flares would be absolutely devastating to life on those planets (if it existed). The sun, by contrast, is not just another star; it differs from every other known star in that it has an extremely consistent energy output, creating the stable conditions needed for life. The sun is also just the right size to give the earth the perfect balance of warmth and light.

While the earth relies on the sun to produce the light and heat needed for life, the sun also produces damaging radiation. The earth has a magnetic field of the ideal strength to keep radiation from the sun (and other celestial bodies) from damaging life. Also, without a magnetic field, solar radiation would strip the earth of its atmosphere over time. This magnetic field is created by electrical currents within the earth. While the earth’s magnetic field has weakened considerably since Creation (electrical currents encounter resistance), it still exists at a strength which gives good protection to life. But while life cannot exist without a magnetic field to protect it, a magnetic field that is too strong would create catastrophic physical damage (e.g., melting the earth). A magnetic field must exist at the right strength to be right for life. As for the seven recently-discovered planets, they are gravitationally locked, and gravitationally locked planets likely do not have magnetic fields, meaning that they cannot protect their atmospheres or their surfaces against radiation.

Not just the sun, but also the moon plays an important role in supporting life on the earth. The moon is the perfect size, composition, and distance from the earth. It is 400 times smaller than the sun, but also 400 times closer to the earth than the sun, so that it appears exactly the same size as the sun in the sky. It gives enough light to keep nights from being completely dark, but it is not so bright as to make sleep difficult. The moon moves about 1.5 inches further away from the earth each year (lunar recession), but basically stays in the same place over time on a biblical timescale (though it would have moved off into space long ago on an evolutionary timescale). Critically, the moon stabilizes the earth’s rotation, keeping the poles consistently at about 23.5 degrees, which in turn stabilizes the earth’s climate and produces seasons. This stabilization occurs because the moon orbits the earth in nearly the same plane as the earth orbits the sun (only 5.145 degrees of difference) and is relatively large in comparison to the earth. By contrast, the satellites of other planets are generally far smaller than the planets they orbit, and they orbit these planets around their axis of rotation (and thus do not provide stabilization). But the slight difference between the moon’s orbital plane and the earth’s is important, because without it the whole earth would become dark every new moon; as it is, total solar eclipses are rare and short-lived.

Somewhat surprisingly, the other planets in the solar system are also necessary for life on the earth. The largest planet, Jupiter, is particularly helpful—it is too far away to pull the earth or the moon out of orbit, but its gravity deflects most of the asteroids and comets that come hurtling in our direction. It was for this reason that the scientific community got excited in 2002 over the possibility of extraterrestrial life when a “Jupiter-like” planet was discovered orbiting the star 55 Cancri. However, the orbit of this planet is much more elliptical than the planets in our solar system, meaning that it would cross the orbit of any “Earth-like” planet in the system, disrupting its orbit and thereby rendering conditions for life impossible. While the earth and other planets in the solar system have low orbital eccentricity (making the earth’s temperature and orbit stable), most exoplanets have high orbital eccentricity (i.e., are highly elliptical), except for the ones that are very close to the stars they orbit and are therefore gravitationally locked. In the case of the seven planets revolving around Trappist-1, Danny Faulkner notes, “Numerous simulations revealed that the system likely would disrupt within a half-million years” because of gravitational interactions among the planets. Obviously the evolutionary timescale requires far more than 500,000 years for life to evolve.

Finally, the Milky Way is an ideal galaxy for life, and the sun is in an ideal location within the Milky Way. Our night sky is just dark enough, with just the right number of visible stars, none of which is excessively bright, and which are distributed fairly evenly throughout the sky.

The earth has the perfect conditions for life to exist. These conditions are so specific, there is probably no other place in the universe that has these conditions—that is, there are no other earths. Speculating that planets which are barely detectable may have conditions suitable for life to exist is not scientifically responsible. But the conditions for life to exist are different than the conditions for life to evolve. In fact, it is absolutely impossible for life to evolve; one of the most basic principles of biology is that life only comes from other life. The most fundamental characteristic of the earth that makes it able to support life is that it already supports life, diverse life. Living things on the earth depend on other living things to survive and provide balance to the earth’s ecosystems; new life arises when existing life reproduces. The Bible teaches that all life is ultimately sourced in God the Creator, who not only created biological life, but also fine-tuned a planet and a universe to support it. The discovery of “Earth-like” planets, which in fact are not truly Earth-like, is not a discovery of extraterrestrial life and does not provide supporting evidence for Darwinian evolution.

A review of The Ark Encounter

Most people have by now heard of The Ark Encounter, a full-size replica of Noah’s ark in Williamsburg, Kentucky that opened on July 7, 2016, and that has already been visited by more than half a million people. The Ark Encounter was constructed by the creation apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis under the leadership of Ken Ham. I visited the Ark Encounter for the first time this past Wednesday.

The reconstruction of Noah’s ark at The Ark Encounter is of far superior quality than any previous attempts to draw or reconstruct the ark, such as the Noah’s Ark on the island of Ma Wan in Hong Kong, which I visited in 2010 (see photo in the gallery below), or the half-size and full-size floating arks built by Johan Huibers. It is the largest wood-frame building in the world, and its size is very impressive—both as you look at the ship from the outside, and as you walk through it on the inside. Great efforts were made by the scientific experts at Answers in Genesis to reconstruct the ark as accurately as possible and to show that it was both feasible for ancient builders to construct and capable of holding and sustaining eight people and two of every kind of land animal and bird. Rigorous scientific analysis was conducted to calculate the number of animals that would have been on board, the amount of food they would have needed, and the space that Noah and his family would have required. Attention was even given to such details as water collection, waste disposal, ventilation, and lighting. Models were constructed by engineers to test various hull designs for their seaworthiness and the amount their contents would be rocked in rough seas. Efforts were also made to be faithful to the biblical text, and to take the Genesis account seriously. The Ark Encounter is very impressive, and is worth visiting if for no other reason than to see how large Noah’s ark actually was (assuming that the long cubit used by the Answers in Genesis builders was the one used by Noah, which is likely). It is also an incredible feat of engineering and ingenuity.

Answers in Genesis has done great, groundbreaking work to raise awareness of the biblical story of origins and to defend the scientific credibility of the biblical account. The Ark Encounter is the most visible and already the best-known work that Answers in Genesis has ever produced. It is too big and too famous to be ignored, and secular scientists and the media are increasingly being forced to grapple with biblical creationism. Countless Christians, including both laymen and clergy, have become convinced through the ministry of Answers in Genesis and The Ark Encounter that it is indeed possible that God created the world only a little more than 6,000 years ago, and that He destroyed the world with a deluge of water only a little more than 4,500 years ago. The Ark Encounter should be considered a great success merely for the impact it has had as a public proclamation of the biblical history of origins.

Answers in Genesis places great emphasis on scientific accuracy, museum-quality artistic representations, and professional media productions. There is a nice exhibit inside The Ark Encounter on the Ice Age, for example. Answers in Genesis does not, however, hire experts on Bible scholarship or archaeology. One sees in the bookstore that Answers in Genesis assigned someone with an M.A. an engineering and no seminary training to write a book on the tower of Babel, and they assigned someone with a Ph.D. in astronomy to write a book on hermeneutics. With regard to The Ark Encounter, while Answers in Genesis is faithful to the basic biblical storyline, they never go beyond this to the realm of detailed exegesis of the Hebrew text. They also appear to have done little serious (i.e., expert) archaeological research, apart from matters which have a direct bearing on the construction of the ark (such as the length of a cubit and ancient shipbuilding techniques). As a result, the representations of life aboard the ark, the clothing of Noah and his family, and their tools and household items, is simply said to be an artist’s guess at how these things might have been, based on a non-expert understanding of the technologies and cultures of ancient times. Someone who has done serious study of ancient artifacts, as I have, can see right away that some of these artistic representations do not match extant ancient artifacts or cultural patterns. In fact, for representations of writing on the ark, the Answers in Genesis artists have simply made up a nonsense script of letters which never existed and which mean nothing; in my opinion, an attempt to (re)create Proto-Semitic writing would have been better. It also would be nice to see real ancient artifacts displayed, or reproductions of ancient artifacts, rather than “artists’ conceptions.” Some errors also existed when reference was made to the Hebrew text of Genesis, such as the assertion that we cannot know whether the text means there were seven or fourteen of every clean animal (there were fourteen), or that the name “Methuselah” has no prophetic significance (this name means “when he dies, it shall be sent,” a name given by the prophet Enoch, who was Methuselah’s father; and Methuselah did indeed die as a sign in the year of the Deluge after living longer than anyone ever had).

The biggest archaeological gap in The Ark Encounter is that no attempt was made to find or excavate the remains of the actual ark of Noah, which could yield precise information about the ark’s size, shape, construction materials, and construction methods. The Ark Encounter was built on the basis of biblical statements about the ark, our knowledge of ancient shipbuilding, and scientific testing of various possible design features. Answers in Genesis has shown virtually no interest in the thorough research done by their friend Bill Crouse and others which demonstrates that both ancient tradition and modern archaeological investigation overwhelmingly supports the identification of Mount Cudi (a.k.a. Cudi Dag, Cudi Dağı, Mount Judi, Mount Qardu) as the landing site of Noah’s ark. (See the article by Bill Crouse and Gordon Franz in the Fall 2006 issue of Bible and Spade, available here or here. The same issue contains a counterpoint article by Richard Lanser which makes the case for Mount Ararat. See also this 2013 blog article by Gordon Franz, the articles here and here by Timo Roller, and these articles by S. C. Compton.) I found it somewhat strange that The Ark Encounter said nothing at all about whether remains of Noah’s ark might still exist today (as many claim), nor did it mention the various traditions and theories about specific landing sites for the ark. It would have been nice to see the artist’s portrayal of the landing site of the ark match one of the traditional landing sites. The Ark Encounter’s portrayal of the first settlements after the Deluge should also have shown an authentic scene from Turkey, with drawings to match archaeological remains from the most ancient settlements in the area. Some photographs of the traditional landing sites could also have been included.

The major upside of The Ark Encounter is the attention it brings to the historicity of the biblical account. The major downside of The Ark Encounter is that it blurs the line between the historical and the conjectural. Children will have trouble understanding that when they see and hear an animatronic Noah describing life aboard the ark, this is merely someone’s hypothesis concerning the way things on the ark might have been, and that virtually none of what is heard or seen in the dioramas is specifically described in the Bible. It is a mistake to think that what is seen in The Ark Encounter is what actually was, or that the Bible affirms that it was so. Many people, both children and adults, will come away from The Ark Encounter thinking that Noah’s wife was probably named Emzara, when in fact this name comes from a Jewish legend that likely has no historical basis (from The Book of Jubilees 4.33, a pseudepigraphical work composed by a Pharisee between 135 and 105 BC). People will also assume that details such as the way Noah and his family are dressed are archaeologically accurate, when in fact their clothing was likely more similar to the standard robe and tunic of the ancient Near East. To their credit, Answers in Genesis does make an effort to distinguish between the things they have hypothesized or simply invented and the things that the Bible teaches. Still, when people walk through an exhibit which describes Noah’s life before he began building the ark, many will believe that this is indeed what Noah’s life was probably like, when in fact it is all a fairy tale. Ditto for the exhibit which describes the ark’s living quarters, and which says, e.g., “Ham enjoys building things with wood and metal, and he is the most ambitious of the sons. His wife, Kezia, is also a hard worker, and she is more interested than the other women in dressing up and looking her best.”  There really is no reason to include these fictions, which detract from the credibility of the more plausible conjectures concerning the use of a system of ventilation on the ark, a rainwater collection system, and a process for sewage removal.

One issue many people have with The Ark Encounter is its high ticket prices. I understand that Answers in Genesis spent $100 million on the construction of The Ark Encounter, and it needs to recoup these costs. It is also an expensive, high-quality operation which requires a lot of money to run (including tight security, with three bomb-sniffing dogs). There is a price to pay for quality. Donor plaques are everywhere (a common practice, but one which violates Matthew 6:1-4 and James 2:1-9). The Ark Encounter has been called the world’s most expensive gospel tract. For a large family, the cost of visiting The Ark Encounter ($40 per adult, which starts at age 13) could easily run into the hundreds of dollars, especially if two-day passes are purchased which include admission to the Creation Museum or if tickets are purchased for such extras as the zip line, the “fossil find,” the camel rides, or the planetarium show. The single restaurant onsite charges $12.99 for lunch and $16.99 for dinner (which starts at 1 pm). Parking is $10. And most visitors will have travel expenses and a hotel bill. The United States is certainly the only country in the world where there are significant numbers of people who are willing to pay these prices for a chance to see a replica of Noah’s ark. Still, with half of Americans earning less than $30,000/year, it will be difficult for many to pay. I would suggest that The Ark Encounter offer a  discount for pastors, missionaries, seminary students, and/or seminary professors. It currently only offers a 20% discount for active members and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, which can be used to purchase up to five tickets. Veterans also receive free admission on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. This practice is rather puzzling, since the United States military has nothing to do with advancing the mission of the church. Christian organizations should favor soldiers in the Lord’s army. Also, while it is important to reach everyone with the message of Genesis, it would seem especially advantageous for Answers in Genesis to reach pastors and other Christian leaders if it wants to maximize its influence on the church.

In the category of miscellaneous criticisms, I found some of the background music (which plays constantly) objectionable and did not care for the movies. I also questioned whether it would have been necessary to keep each pairing of animals together in small cages, like a zoo, after they had all come to Noah and walked on board the ark voluntarily. Perhaps many of them could have been kept together in large pens or holds. I also found it odd that there was no exhibit to explain why The Ark Encounter is built with a wooden fin on the bow and a skeg on the stern—a shape which will appear strange to many (explained here). Nor were there exhibits to explain how the ark was constructed, how its boards could have been held together, what type of wood was used, or how it was pitched. There was not even an explanation of how The Ark Encounter itself was built, or any information about the huge logs used as posts in the center of the structure. On the upside, I found the food in the restaurant to be better than some of the online reviews had said (all of the complaints were about the hamburgers, before the restaurant switched to buffet-style dining). The zoo was also nice, and free with admission.

In spite of these criticisms, I found my visit to The Ark Encounter to be an enjoyable and educational experience, and I highly recommend visiting this amazing edifice at least one time. The Ark Encounter is a landmark in the modern creationist movement, if it is still only a model to be improved upon. It is a truly unique place; there has not been an opportunity to see anything like it since the original ark of Noah rotted away. Even people who do not believe the biblical account of creation will likely enjoy seeing the ark and the exhibits inside of it. The nearby Creation Museum is also well worth a visit, preferably the day before your visit to The Ark Encounter, so as to provide the background information necessary to understand The Ark Encounter. If you want to avoid large crowds, do not visit on Saturdays or holidays. Be prepared for a lot of walking, although motorized carts can be rented by those who need them. While a scholar who is hoping to find an archaeological museum at The Ark Encounter will be disappointed (outside of the excellent “Voyage of the Book” exhibit, presented by the Museum of the Bible), one can still enjoy The Ark Encounter after realizing that it was designed for scientific accuracy within a biblical framework, not for archaeological or language accuracy. Above all else, it stands as a giant witness to an unbelieving culture that Bible’s account of the origins of the world is true, and that it really was possible for an ancient man to build a great ship which could contain two of every kind of animal in the whole world.

Some reflections on the Middle Ages

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The term “Middle Ages” refers to the long period of world history (1,000 years) which intervened between antiquity and modernity. Just as the middle life of a man is the period of life between youth and old age, and bridges the gap between the two, so also the Middle Ages of the world bridges the great chasm which separates the ancient world from the modern world. In middle life some things are lost, but others are gained, and there is an overall process of maturation; and so it was in the Middle Ages of the world. Studying the Middle Ages makes the connection between antiquity and modernity seem less remote. The Middle Ages are sometimes called the “Medieval Period,” since “Medieval” means “Middle Ages” in Latin (medius + aevum).

The Middle Ages was created by the fall of classical civilization to the barbarians. While the decline of the Roman Empire was slow and gradual, a specific date and event has recently been put forth as the dividing point between Antiquity and the Middle Ages: a massive eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in AD 535. This eruption created a worldwide ash cloud that obscured sunlight for nearly a decade, causing famines and enormous social and political upheaval. David Keys, the archaeology correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, argues in his book Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World that the 535 eruption of Krakatoa caused the collapse of ancient cultures and empires and led to the emergence of a new world order. PBS also ran a two-part television special which summarized his research (part 1; part 2). I find Keys’ theory convincing, and I recommend his work.

The terminal point of the Middle Ages was the Protestant Reformation, which began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. The Protestant Reformation broke the control which the Roman Catholic Church held over the peoples and governments of Europe, and in doing so it shattered the order of the medieval world. While the Reformation seems in some ways like a recent event, next year marks its 500th anniversary.

The church was the dominant feature of life in medieval Europe. Our reference to “the church” must be tempered by two observations in order to clear away common misconceptions. First, religion in medieval Europe, while dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, was far from monolithic. At the beginning of the Middle Ages much of Europe was still pagan, and the last pagan holdouts in the north were not finally converted until a century or two before the Protestant Reformation. There were also Muslims in Europe for most of the Middle Ages—first in the Iberian Peninsula, then in the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople (1453). There were, as well, sects of Christianity which were independent of the Roman See. These included the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Lollards, the semi-autonomus Waldensians, and the heretical Albigensians. There were also independent Christian individuals and churches whose names we do not know. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church suppressed information on anti-papal groups. It is only in recent times that we have begun to study them, using the available sources. These studies have lifted a corner on our ignorance concerning the Middle Ages, and have revealed that the church of the Middle Ages was not a monolithic entity. We have also discovered some interesting theology of these anti-papal groups; for example, it seems that some held to a pretribulational rapture which they distinguished from the second coming. An archaeology professor I had in college claimed there is evidence that there were hundreds of house churches in Italy during the height of papal power, around AD 1000. Yet we know nothing about the doctrine of these small churches, and none of their leaders’ writings have been preserved. Virtually all that has been preserved from the Middle Ages are the writings of philosophical, mystical monks.

Second, the defining aspects of the Romanism of the Council of Trent developed by a very gradual, step-by-step process over the course of the Middle Ages. The Roman form of Christianity at the start of the Middle Ages, though it had many problems which gradually metastasized, was far different than the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Roman church recognized the legitimacy of churches that were not under its direct authority, such as Celtic Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox churches. It was not until 1054 that the Roman See finally split with the Eastern church, leading to the claim that there is no salvation apart from membership in the Roman church. Celibacy was not a requirement for clergy until well into the Middle Ages. Worship of Mary developed gradually during the Middle Ages, as did the veneration of saints, the practice of penance, the issuing of indulgences, and the concepts of a priesthood and the pope as vicar of Christ. Incidentally, the Great Schism between Western and Eastern Christianity in 1054 caused the Eastern and Western churches to develop along quite separate spiritual and intellectual paths, with the eventual result being a great Reformation in the West and total deadness in the East.

That the Roman form of Christianity had deep problems throughout the Middle Ages, there is no doubt. These problems were always present, though they grew progressively worse and eventually forced the Protestant Reformation. These problems kept most men from being saved while fooling them into thinking that they were in fact saved. The medieval church is represented in Revelation 2–3 by the church of Sardis, which was the second-worst church of the seven. It was a cold church. The very worst church, however, is the lukewarm Laodicean church, which represents the church of the present age. In fact, because the church is composed of men and governed by men (who should be governed by Christ), it is almost always far from ideal, and it almost always has much corruption and many problems. One ought not to dismiss the Middle Ages completely because of the corruption in the church. The church, in spite of its problems, was the single most positive force in society and the world throughout the Middle Ages, and it included many good things as well as bad things—though, on the whole, it well merits the sharp condemnation issued by Jesus in Revelation 3:1-6.

In some ways the Medieval Period was the polar opposite of the postmodern age. It was an age of authority, of structure and order. The Medieval Period was also an age of faith. Unlike the picture that is sometimes presented of ignoramuses who never heard anything contrary to the doctrine of the church, medieval man did in fact have many challenges to his faith—from pagan barbarians, from Muslims, from heterodox sects, and from calamities of all sorts which produced great physical suffering in the lives of faithful Christians. Medieval man persisted in faith, and, with rare exceptions, did not doubt. When his faith was assaulted, he pushed back strongly, and usually converted many of the doubters.

The Medieval Period was a spiritual age. Yes, the theology of the church had deep problems, and the majority of professing Christians, from popes to peasants, were not genuinely born again. But in an age when life was exceedingly crude, brutish, short, and meager, it was spiritual riches and spiritual health that were coveted, not material riches or material health. Kings bestowed lavish gifts on the church, and nobles threw their gold rings and precious jewels into the foundation mortar of new cathedrals. There were thousands of monasteries in which huge numbers of young men and young women renounced the things of this world and committed their lives to the full-time service of God, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Others joined mendicant (beggar) orders, living without home, possessions, or wife in order to be completely free to serve God within the world (rather than withdrawing from the world to serve God, as the monks). Pious men from all classes of society undertook arduous pilgrimages throughout the European continent to seek some spiritual benefit. Missionaries fearlessly brought the message of the Christian gospel to barbarian tribes on the fringes of civilization, while zealous kings launched invasions of pagan areas to force their conversion. Others, stirred by the church’s call to arms, led armies to faraway Palestine in order to free the Holy Land from the rule of the infidels. When most of the Crusaders returned home, gallant orders of knights stayed behind in the stifling Mideastern heat, and built castles to protect the Holy Land from reoccupation. The church was the most prominent and most noble building in any medieval town, and it was the center of village life. No expense was spared on the construction of churches, and some took well over a hundred years of faithful labor to complete. Many people attended church services every day of the year, and monks attended nine services within each twenty-four hour period. The calendar revolved around the festivals and seasons of the church year. Before the humanism of the Renaissance turned man’s focus back to himself and his world, God was the focus of all education, and most learned men spent their academic lives studying, writing, and hand-copying Christian texts. Indeed, education was almost exclusively the domain of churchmen; neither peasants nor nobles saw the need to become literate. Manuscripts of the Bible, lectionaries, the Book of Hours, and other liturgical texts were painstakingly and beautifully illuminated by hand. Artisans and stonemasons spent untold hours producing intricate works of art to beautify churches. Unlike today’s monumental constructions, none of the great churches of the Middle Ages, nor any part of any church, bore the names of the kings and nobles who contributed the funds to build them. Their reward was in heaven; the church was to bring glory to God. There was no concept of separation between church and state, nor of toleration of heresy or of paganism. In short, most people in the Middle Ages sincerely loved the church, loved religion, and loved God, though all too often it was a zeal without knowledge (cf. Rom 10:2).

The application of the term “Dark Ages” to the Middle Ages is only partly correct, and mainly only for the early Middle Ages after the crumbling of classical civilization and the decentralization of political power. Some (post)modern historical writings misconstrue the term “Dark Ages” to mean that the church made all of Europe backward and ignorant because of its Christian beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were, indeed, periods of intellectual and cultural decline during the Middle Ages, but these were due to the collapse of governments and empires, resulting in a feudal society with a large class of poor and ignorant peasants. Invasions by barbarian pagans and Muslims also diluted Europe’s culture and learning, and forced masses of people into a hand-to-mouth existence. During these periods of darkness it was the church, particularly monks, which preserved culture and learning, and which kept European society from collapsing. Modern man owes a great deal to medieval monks, who worked diligently and faithfully to serve God and the world in the midst of troubled and uncertain times. Monks not only preserved and attempted to disseminate learning, they also continually reformed themselves and the church, they taught good agricultural practices to the peasants, and they helped to convert and civilize the barbarians. Far from propagating ignorance, the biblical teachings of Christianity actually gave the people of the Middle Ages a far more penetrating view of reality than their Muslim and pagan contemporaries—or than the confused and shifting understanding of the world put forth by modern secular scholarship. The decline of Greco-Roman culture was in many ways no loss at all, since Greco-Roman philosophy and religion was unbiblical and largely untrue. The real decline of Western culture came through the revival of Greek philosophy and art which began in earnest during the Renaissance and continued through the Enlightenment, finally coming to full fruition in theological liberalism and atheistic naturalism. As for scientific knowledge, the state of scientific knowledge fluctuated with rise and decline of nations and empires, since there was often no means to save the knowledge of the previous generation if it was not passed down directly. Scientific knowledge contracted in some areas while greatly expanding in others during the Middle Ages (especially construction techniques), being once again preserved and advanced mainly by monks—but in the end this was of little consequence to people who viewed life’s basic needs as spiritual. One could live with just as much fulfillment and spiritual depth in primitive conditions as in a scientifically advanced society.

Justo Gonzalez makes the following observation:

It will be clear that any evaluation of the Middle Ages, even at their highest point, will reflect the theological presuppositions on which such an evaluation is made. If one believes that the purpose of history is to evolve to the point where humanity comes of age and is emancipated from all that has traditionally bound it, one will value the Renaissance and the subsequent centuries as the time of emancipation from the religious and political authorities of the Middle Ages. If, on the other hand, one sees the human purpose as basically spiritual and believes that such purpose can only be accomplished within the structure and under the authority of a Christian order, one will value the Middle Ages as the time when religious authority was accepted most widely, when people were most concerned for their eternal destinations, and when doubts regarding crucial religious questions were less prevalent.

(Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, rev. ed., vol. 2, pp. 336-37)

Gonzalez’s observation must be tempered by the reminder that the sort of spirituality that was prominent in the Middle Ages resulted in most professing Christians going to hell. Nevertheless, Jesus and the apostles made no attempt to improve society, or to invent labor-saving devices or items of comfort. There are, of course, some such items whose proper use would result in the advancement of Christianity, such as the printing press, but these can also be turned to evil ends. For the man who values the things of Christ above the things of this life, he is able to feel fulfilled without inventions, the accumulation of wealth, or the creation of great human works. He is content to study, meditate, pray, suffer, witness, and die—all in the hope of a better resurrection. The Middle Ages, for all its problems and contradictions, ought to motivate us today to a life which values the spiritual and aims to serve God above all else.

Insights from Bible scholars at the 2016 ETS conference

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This past week was the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Antonio, Texas. About 2,500 evangelical scholars from around the world attended this year’s conference. The conference is a time for those who don’t see each other for the rest of the year to interact and share their research. In this post, I will summarize some insights from presentations I attended.

The theme of this year’s conference was the trinity. One of the more interesting presentations on that topic was given by Dr. Imad Shehadeh, the president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. Shehadeh argued that Islam did us a great favor by showing us what a system of theology would look like without the trinity. The main difficulty in such a theological system is that a unitarian “God” can have no essential relational or moral attributes. A one-person God could not have been loving before creation, since there was no one to love. A one-person God could not have been good or just before creation, since there was no one to show goodness or justice toward. This is the great theological problem in Islam. Islamic theologians say that all of God’s attributes arise from his will, not from his nature. God is merciful because he decides to be, not because mercy is part of his nature. And no one knows his will. The central attribute of God in Islam is power/will, not holiness. All of his relational attributes, including love and mercy, are subsets of his power. The result is a capricious and arbitrary god whose will is absolute, and can override even any stated promise or law. Muslim theologians will admit that they cannot be certain who will be in paradise and who will be in eternal torment, since making any such declaration would be placing a restriction on the will of Allah. There is even a question of how language could exist before creation in a unitarian system, since language is a means of communication, and a unitarian God would have no one to communicate with. In summary, any belief that God is good, loving, kind, holy, and so forth necessitates a belief in the trinitarian God of the Bible, for only a trinitarian God could have moral and relational attributes within Himself, as part of His essential nature.

David Falk gave an interesting presentation on Abraham’s 318 “trained men” (חָנִיכִים‎, a hapax legomenon), whom he led out to battle against a coalition of kings (Gen 14:14). These men are said to have been Abraham’s household slaves. While it may seem unusual for an individual such as Abraham (Abram) to have his own in-house military force, in Abraham’s historical context it was not so unusual. As a nomadic herdsman who lived in a land which lacked a central government, Abraham was responsible for his own protection and justice system. Abraham had to provide martial arts training for his slaves for his protection and theirs (they were protecting their own families as well as their master’s). Falk’s presentation focused on evidence from ancient Egypt for a martial arts tradition (qm’). Many reliefs and paintings from Dynasty 5 to Dynasty 22 in Egypt depict forms of wrestling and sport-fighting. Some of these depictions look similar to jujitsu. Some include a referee. Tomb 215 in Beni Hasan portrays 212 different types of martial arts techniques, including some using sticks and knives. The portrayal of similar scenes and techniques over such a long period of time (ca. 1,500 years) shows that this was a martial arts tradition, and not a mere fad. Often it is clear from the way the combatants are portrayed that they are foreign slaves. Since most native Egyptians were low-skilled farmers, ironically it was often foreign slaves who were given training for highly skilled jobs. Abraham had in fact spent time in Egypt and had been given slaves by Pharaoh (Gen 12:16), so he could have received a cadre of slaves with martial arts training, or he could have had his own slaves trained in Egypt. Esau may have inherited this group of slaves military training, as he came to meet Jacob with a 400-man security force, which he evidently used to conquer Seir/Edom (Gen 33:1). A second question Falk addressed was whether 318 men would be sufficient to defeat an army led by four kings. While Falk acknowledged that the army led by these kings could have numbered 10,000 or more based on figures reported in contemporary documents, the army would have been depleted after a long campaign of conquest and some major battles. Falk also cited numerous examples from the Amarna letters in which kings requested relatively small numbers of troops from Egypt in order to turn the tide of warfare against an opposing city-state. Often the requests are for 200-400 men, and in several cases they are for less than 100 men. Falk noted that only 300 highly trained Spartan warriors stopped an entire Persian army numbering in the millions at the pass of Thermopylae in 480 BC. The simple fact that Abraham’s men were highly trained in a martial arts tradition would have made them capable of engaging a much larger force. Abraham also employed astute military strategy, launching a surprise attack in the dead of night from two directions (Gen 14:15). Abraham did not completely wipe out the opposing army or kill the opposing kings, but he did force them to leave their captives and booty behind and flee (Gen 14:16). All in all, Falk’s research puts what has been a largely obscure passage in an interesting light.

On Wednesday morning, Crossway hosted a free breakfast with John Piper in order to promote Piper’s book A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness. Piper argued that even a child can know for certain that the message of the Christian gospel is true because the Bible is self-authenticating and does not need any external proof of its validity. If the Bible is the Word of God, then the glory of God cannot but shine through its pages—similar to the way the glory of God is seen through the created universe (Ps 19:1). In fact, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 teaches that we come to know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ by perceiving the glory of God in our hearts as we hear the Word of God. The whole Bible authenticates itself by the shining of the glory of God in and through it. The glory of God is self-authenticating to all who genuinely perceive it. I purchased Piper’s book at the conference.

I attended a lunch meeting on Wednesday for scholars who believe in a literal six-day creation. One of the points of interest to come out of this meeting was that the identification of God as Creator is central to the biblical theology of who God is. When Jonah was asked which God he worshiped, he replied that he worships the God of heaven, who created the world (Jonah 1:9). When Paul was explaining God to the pagan philosophers in Athens, he identified Him as the Creator of the world and the Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 17:24).

Dan Wallace gave the presidential address at the banquet on Wednesday evening. He noted that while it is unknown who invented the codex (book), Christians were largely responsible for its popularization. In the first 500 years of the Christian era, 90 percent of Christian books were codices, whereas only 14 percent of non-Christian books were. Scrolls were too unwieldy to hold the large collections of texts in the Christian Bible in a single volume, so Christians used codices instead. Wallace noted three landmarks in the history of bookmaking: [1] the invention of the codex (1st century AD); [2] the invention of the moveable type printing press (1454), one year after Constantinople fell to the Muslims and scribes from the east brought their manuscripts to the west (moved a memorizing society to a reading society); [3] the advent of the digital age (moved a reading society to a reference society; we now read only snippets, not books). Wallace also noted in passing the interesting observation that Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Joseph Stalin as dictator of the Soviet Union, likely memorized all four Gospels as a child. At the end of his address, Wallace took aim at people who supposedly do not want the Evangelical Theological Society to include the left wing of evangelicalism. In reality, the ETS leadership has been making executive decisions which support the left wing of evangelicalism against the larger right wing (primarily Baptists), especially on the issue of women in Bible teaching and leadership roles. The most conservative members of the ETS have also been given progressively less prominent places at the conferences. This has led to some tension within the ETS in recent years. When leaders were elected at the business meeting on Thursday, the Southern Baptists made nominations from the floor, but none of their preferred candidates won.

At a lunch meeting sponsored by Tuktu Tours, Mark Wilson summarized an article he coauthored with Thomas Davis in the Pharos Journal of Theology. Acts 13:13 does not say why young John Mark left Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey and returned to his home in Jerusalem. Quite possibly Paul and Barnabas were originally intending to sail to Alexandria, and John Mark dropped out after they changed plans and sailed to Perga instead. Ships sailing from Paphos, on the southern coast of Cyprus, typically followed the prevailing winds south to Alexandria; if Paul had originally intended to sail north to Perga, he would have planned to sail from a port on the northern coast of Cyprus. Alexandria had a large Jewish community, and would have been a natural place to go on a missionary journey. Church tradition strongly connects Mark with the church in Alexandria, so he and Barnabas did likely go to Alexandria after parting ways with Paul in Acts 15:39-40. What made Paul change his plans was his providential encounter with the proconsul at Paphos, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12). Inscriptions discovered in Turkey show that Sergius Paulus had family connections in Antioch of Pisidia. Thus, he probably made a personal plea to Paul and Barnabas to go to Pisidian Antioch and share the gospel with his relatives, which they immediately did (Acts 13:14-50). John Mark was accustomed to living in a large urban center—he had spent his entire life in a mansion in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12)—and he did not feel comfortable traveling through the small towns and rural areas of central Turkey (Acts 15:38). Evidence from the New Testament and church history places Mark’s ministry in four of the largest urban centers in the Roman Empire: Jerusalem, Syrian Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.

Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research gave a presentation on the location of Bethel. It is often difficult to identify the location of biblical sites (aside from the most prominent ones) because, while the general area of the site may be known, there are usually remains of many ancient towns and villages in that area, with no ancient signposts giving their names. Bethel lies in the vicinity of the modern city of Ramallah in the West Bank. W. F. Albright, Anson Rainey, and Israel Finkelstein are notable proponents of the view that Bethel is to be identified with the Arab village of Beitin. This is currently the consensus view in standard archaeology texts. However, Bryant Wood and his late colleague David Livingstone identify Bethel with the nearby site of El-Bireh. One of their arguments for this identification is that El-Bireh fits with statements made by the fourth century historian Eusebius about the location of Bethel. Eusebius states that Bethel is 12 Roman miles from Jerusalem. Several Roman milestones (mile markers) have been found on the road which leads north from Jerusalem, although a number is only preserved on the marker for Mile 5. Using these milestones and our knowledge of the approximate length of a Roman mile, we know that El-Bireh lies 11.5 miles from Jerusalem, whereas Beitin lies 14 miles from Jerusalem. In addition, Eusebius stated that Gibeon lies 4 Roman miles west of Bethel. While El-Bireh is 4 Roman miles east of Gibeon, Beitin is 6 Roman miles east of Gibeon. Wood also argued that the archaeology of El-Bireh fits much better with Bethel than does the archaeology of Beitin. Bethel became a prominent city during the divided monarchy period in ancient Israel, after Jeroboam made it one of the two main centers of pagan Israelite worship (1 Kgs 12:28-29). He built a great high place of sacrifice in Bethel, complete with a golden calf and a large altar (1 Kgs 12:32-33). The other high place of sacrifice built by Jeroboam was located in Dan; this site has been well-excavated, and its high place is very impressive. The site of Beitin has been well-excavated over a period of decades, but what was found there does not match what one would expect for Bethel. No cultic objects (i.e., idolatrous figurines and other objects used for pagan worship) have been found at Beitin, in comparison to 89 cultic objects from Tel Dan. Even Albright acknowledged that there was no evidence of Jeroboam’s sanctuary at Beitin; and there were few remains from the Iron IIA period, when Bethel reached its greatest prominence. Beitin is a very unimpressive site in comparison to Tel Dan. Wood suggests that the site of Ras et-Tahuna in El-Bireh is the likely location of the high place of Jeroboam. This is a hill with a large platform which lies 12 Roman miles from Jerusalem. While it is unexcavated, much pottery from the Iron IIA period is visible on the surface, including a horse-head cultic figurine which Wood displayed in his presentation. El-Bireh is also an unexcavated site, but surveys have shown that it has many remains from Iron IIA. El-Bireh and Ras et-Tahuna are also more directly east of the site of Khirbet el-Maqatir (biblical Ai) than is Beitin, which fits with the geographical markers given in Genesis 12:8 and Joshua 7:2. While some scholars suggest that the Arabic “Beitin” preserves the ancient name of “Bethel,” Wood argued that it is closer to “Beth-aven” (Josh 7:2). While Wood’s theory is hard to prove in the absence of archaeological excavations at El-Bireh, he certainly was correct when he observed that many conclusions in the field of archaeology are not based on evidence, but rather on the opinions of eminent scholars.

The renowned scholar Edwin Yamauchi, who has studied twenty-two languages, declared that this conference would be his last. He noted that while we often associate worship with music, the Hebrew and Greek words translated “worship” in the Bible actually mean “to bow down,” “to prostrate oneself.” Yamauchi also noted that verses from the Quran are inscribed on the façade of the Dome of the Rock, but they have variations from the current accepted text of the Quran, which leads scholars to conclude that the text of the Quran was still not fixed by the time the Dome of the Rock was constructed (late 7th century). Yamauchi also noted that in New Testament times there were basically no independent farmers in Israel, only tenants for landowners. This is because the tithing requirement in the Mosaic Law was interpreted as essentially a tax on agricultural products, which meant (in the minds of the rabbis) that only farmers had to pay tithes, and profits made through other occupations were exempt. Jews therefore generally avoided the occupation of farming in the first century AD.

Scott Aniol gave a well-researched presentation on the famed hymnwriter Isaac Watts’ views on the trinity. Essentially, Watts always considered himself to be an orthodox trinitarian, and his hymns are replete with sound trinitarian theology. However, Watts walked into a theological minefield later in his career while trying to precisely define biblical trinitarianism against popular forms of unitarianism and Arianism. Some of the things which he wrote in a treatise published in 1724­–25 were controversial, and he retracted them in later works. He still held some idiosyncratic views, but explicitly affirmed the Athanasian Creed. Claims that Watts was unitarian are wholly untrue. In the end, however, Watts’ theological legacy is the theology expressed in his hymns, not the theology expressed in his books. Watts’ hymns have served the church well in teaching correctly about the triune nature of God.

Beyond all the presentations, the ETS meeting was a great opportunity to meet with old friends, as well as to make new ones. The weather in San Antonio was perfect. The conference was held by the beautiful Riverwalk, and the unforgettable Alamo was less than half a mile from the hotel. It is hard to think of a better venue for a conference in November. For those scholars who would like to brave the weather in Rhode Island for next year’s meeting, details should appear on the ETS website within a few months. Hope to see you there!

Does the Bible allow a woman to be President?

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The upcoming presidential election in the United States is unique in that a female candidate—Hillary Clinton—is featured at the top of a major party’s ticket for the first time. This is reflective of a huge upending of values in American culture, as it was less than 100 years ago when the U.S. Constitution was amended to give women the right to vote. Even thirty or forty years ago, if a woman was nominated for president, many evangelical Christian leaders would have spoken out against her, arguing that it is unbiblical and immoral for a woman to be president of the country. Most evangelical seminaries did not even admit female students before the 1980s or 1990s. Yet I have not heard any Christian leaders so much as even raise the issue of whether the Bible allows a woman to be president during this election cycle. How quickly our values have changed!

Today, either it is taken for granted that it is it is morally acceptable for women to occupy positions of leadership, or else there is so much hostility to the contrary position that no one on any part of the political spectrum dares even to raise the issue, not even on talk radio or on social media. Yet for much of the history of the United States, most people in the country believed it would be morally wrong for a woman to be president. In fact, most leaders of most countries in all the history of the world have been men, so this is not just a viewpoint unique to people who historically lived in the United States.

Since we as Christians are to be guided by God’s Word in all that we believe and do, the answer to the question of whether it is morally permissible for a woman to be president can only be resolved through a study of what the Bible has to say about the issue. One of the clearest statements in the Bible on the role of women is 1 Timothy 2:12But I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. This verse gives a blanket prohibition against women exercising authority over men. While Paul is speaking of rules for the church, if women are not permitted to exercise authority over men or even to teach in the church, surely it is also morally impermissible for a woman to exercise authority over an entire country. Paul explains the reason for this prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. First, it is because Adam was created before Eve, which set the man in a position of primacy. Second, the fact that Eve was deceived by the serpent while Adam was not shows that men have a greater capacity for discernment than women and therefore a greater inherent ability to lead. These are principles which would apply just as well to the issue of women occupying positions of leadership in government as they would to the issue of women as leaders in the church.

The New Testament does not comment directly on qualifications for political leaders, since the early church had no role in the governance of the Roman Empire. In the Old Testament, politics and religion were closely linked in the nation of Israel, although here again it was not the responsibility of the people to choose their rulers. The Old Testament does not give a list of principles for choosing a king; it says only to appoint the king chosen by Yahweh, who was to be an Israelite (Deut 17:15). To understand the criteria by which God chose kings, we can examine the choices which God made.

It is striking to the modern reader of the Old Testament that every king of Israel and Judah appointed by God was male. God never appointed a woman to rule over his people! There was only one ruling queen in the whole history of the Israelite monarchy—the wicked Athaliah, who usurped power in a coup and was overthrown by the high priest in a counter-coup. Some point to Deborah as an example of a female leader. Judges 4:4 identifies Deborah as a “prophetess” who was involved in the activity of judging. As a prophetess, she did not speak her own judgment and her own message; when people came to her with disputes, she would inquire of Yahweh and return His answer. In this sense, she was like Huldah (2 Chr 34:22-28). These prophetesses were not set in positions of authority over men; they were simply relaying messages from God to them. It does not seem that Deborah actually preached to a mixed audience, or was teaching the Law to the people. It is significant that Deborah called a man, Barak, to lead the army of Israel into battle (Judg 4:6).

Another means of understanding the criteria by which God chose leaders is to look at criticisms of leaders by the prophets. In Isaiah 3:12, God’s people are said to be pitied when women and children rule over them. However one may interpret this verse, the presence of female rulers is definitely viewed as a bad thing. God is saying that Israel will lack qualified leadership.

Interestingly, one of the qualifications for being a king chosen by God was not to be a true believer or worshiper of Yahweh. God anointed Jehu to be king over Israel because of certain good things he would do, even though Jehu was an idolater who never repented of the worship of Jeroboam’s golden calves (2 Kgs 9–10). God anointed Jehu in order to destroy the dynasty of Ahab and the religion of Ahab, which was something that apparently no believer in Israel could have done so effectively. While God disapproved of Jehu’s idolatry, He promised him a four-generation dynasty for the good that he did (2 Kgs 10:29-31).

Despite the fact that it was possible for a woman to be a prophetess, almost all the prophets were men, and every significant prophet and writer of Scripture was male. All the priests, the temple musicians, and official temple servants were required to be male. All of Israel’s military commanders and warriors were male. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was a mark that only males could receive. All of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus were male, and all of the later apostles were male. In the church, women are barred from positions of authority and teaching, not only by 1 Timothy 2:8-15, but also in the qualifications for elders/pastors (“husband of one wife,” 1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:5-6) and by 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, which prohibits women from speaking or asking questions during church services and commands them to be in subjection to male authority. The idea that women should be in subjection to the men who are in authority over them is not just something that applies within the church; Paul cites “the Law” as the basis for this command in order to show that it is not something new or culturally-specific (1 Cor 14:34). Scripture presents women as designed to occupy a role in support of men (cf. Gen 2:18).

From a biblical point of view, the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is obvious: “No way!” Why, then, does it seem that most Christians have no problem with women in positions of leadership? The answer is different for different individual Christians. Some Christians just never have heard a different point of view than the one they were taught by the culture around them. But in too many cases professing Christians simply do not care what the Bible says, and they are not serious about doing everything God wants them to do. They have already decided to commit to egalitarianism, and are not open to considering arguments to the contrary. Following this pattern, as our culture continues to move away from God, increasing numbers of Christians are adopting similarly anti-biblical positions on other cultural issues, of which the most flagrant is acceptance of homosexuality.

Finally, a disclaimer: while some people may view this post as “sexist” or “bigoted,” it is intended to be about the Bible’s teaching on women in positions of political leadership, not about my personal opinion per se. Feminists are actually divided on the issue of the Bible’s teaching about the role of women. On the one hand, there are many Christian feminists who attempt to read the Bible as a feminist book. But there are also many non-Christian feminists who would argue that the Bible is a biased, chauvinistic book which was the product of male-dominated societies and cultures. Thus, the view that the Bible prohibits women from positions of political leadership is not inherently a feminist or anti-feminist viewpoint. However, as a Christian believer I do take what the Bible says as the definitive standard for faith and practice, and I encourage other Christians to do the same.