Dr. Todd Wood, a young earth creationist on the scientific credibility of evolutionary theory. I respectfully (and at the same time resolutely) disagree with his theology and biblical interpretive stance, but I hugely appreciate his scientific honesty.
“Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
I say these things not because I’m crazy or because I’ve “converted” to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I’m motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution. (Technically, they could also be deluded or lying, but that seems rather uncharitable to say. Oops.)Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn’t make it ultimately true, and it doesn’t mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God’s creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don’t be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don’t idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe that’s not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you.” -Dr. Todd Wood, Bryan College (source: FB page – ‘Evolutionary Creationism
Very few people would say that killing humans is categorically wrong (all times, places & circumstances). Most would have general ideas about extenuating – and tragic – circumstances which justify it. So, a kind of moral calculus is almost always at work where the weight of the consequences of killing is contrasted with the weight of the consequences of not killing. (We could – and probably should – include violence that doesn’t result in death, but we won’t go there now)
With that in mind, the most problematic and difficult content of the Bible for me to understand (as a Christian, let alone a dweller in a modern, pacifist, egalitarian context) is the apparent command to kill an entire tribe, including animals, women and children – even babies; if interpreted literally (i.e. 1 Samuel 15:1-3).
(On this, see Matt Flannagan’s various posts providing what I see as good reason to see the ‘total destruction’ language as a culturally normative – and hyperbolic – war language. The Bible itself records later activity of the very nations who were killed, which indicates that the command cannot be literal.)
But putting to one side the question of how literally we can responsibly read the ‘harem’ command, this is still the annihilation of an entire nation. I don’t propose to ‘solve’ this one with this post, but I do offer some contributions to the discussion.
- The literary question: How literally can we read the command to kill a whole nation, babies and all? Hey! I said we were putting that to one side! Go to Matt’s blog for that one! But yeah, I don’t think it’s a literal command. But as for the question of in what sense can we say God commanded this, it seems to me (and seems to fit with the doctrine of Incarnation?) that the word of God has to ‘take flesh’ in real time and space, and that a command of God must be intelligible to the recipients – using language and terms that would make sense to them. It makes all the historical sense in the world that the command would use the ‘war language’ of the times.
- The biblical theology question: How does this command square with the rest of the Bible? First of all, the supposed contradiction between an only wrathful OT God and an only gentle NT God is rubbish, because God is described as both wrathful and gentle in both the OT and NT. Second, there seems to me to be both continuity and discontinuity with this command and the rest of the Bible. Continuity in that God, right throughout the Bible, gives and takes life; discontinuity in that there does seem to be a progression towards non-violence.
- The ethical question: Isn’t it ‘just wrong’ to command a whole group of people to be killed? Even just the fighting men if it wasn’t a literal command? I actually don’t think it’s so simple as it being ‘just wrong’. There is a lot we don’t know about the historical situation. ((I’m also entirely bracketing the current buzz of discussion as to the historicity of the accounts up to and including King David. The evidence is not as clear, methinks, as some want it to be.)) If we grant a) that the command isn’t literal (babies, women, etc.), leaving only militants being killed, and if we grant b) that the ‘rules of engagement’ were applied (allowing non-combatants to leave, making an offer of peace first, etc.) as prescribed in the Torah, and if we grant c) that the people killed indeed practiced cannibalism, human-sacrifice and were bent on killing the Israelites, then it certainly puts things in a very different light.
- What about someone who doesn’t know all of that about the historical context, etc.? How do they deal with this command to kill a nation, including babies, etc.? This is a very good question, because the author(s) of these texts certainly did not intend them to become the subject of a historical and ethical evaluation. These commands reflect a God who is wrathful (and grieved) at human sin. More specifically a God who is grieved and angered by false religion (namely: worship of – and obedience to – idol non-gods) that leads to such dehumanising and degrading practices as child sacrifice & cannibalism. Quite apart from 1) the debates over whether the command is literal and 2) the qualifications about progressive revelation, we can understand these commands quite basically: God is saying ‘enough’ to anti-humane nations, and sparing them from their own continued existence. Putting them out of their own misery, so to speak. I read this comment here, which takes a similar line – “The great Master of life and death (who cuts off one half of all mankind whilst they are children) has been pleased sometimes to ordain that children should be put to the sword, in detestation of the crimes of their parents, and that they might not live to follow the same wicked ways.”
I don’t think any of this ‘solves’ the issue, which I will continue to ponder.
Proverbs 22:7 – “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
A friend recently (and wisely) observed that this is unfortunately ‘heard’/’taken’ as a command rather than as a lamentation. Which made me think about how much interpretation we can do even with simple sentences. The above verse could be (mis)understood in the following senses:
- That this is the way things are intended to be: ‘God wants the rich to rule over the poor and delights in the borrower being a slave to the lender.’
- A cold, apathetic, uncaring, indifferent (‘scientific’), and descriptive observation: ‘The rich have more power than (and often power ‘over’) the poor, and the borrower is indebted to the lender.’
- An implicit command: ‘Don’t be poor! Don’t be ruled by the rich! Don’t borrow money! Ever! It’s is wrong!’
- A lament with an appeal to listen and live life accordingly: “Money quickly becomes a thing that is used to control and enslave people. Large gaps between the rich and poor and large debts are all too real. Please listen to this, and avoid doing that to others or yourself!’
I wonder if Psalm 80 wasn’t a favourite of the particularly zealous 1st century Jews who would have been pleased to see the Romans overthrown by a long hoped-for military Messiah? ((Not all 1st century Jews were militant – i.e. Hillel)) I can imagine this Psalm being sung in the Synagogues of the day… and I can imagine John the Baptist – and later, Jesus – countering their use of Psalm 80 with his own use of Isaiah 5! ((See Matthew 3 and Luke 3))
I also wonder if Psalm 91 was another favourite? I can imagine it being sung – and expounded – in Synagogues. ((or perhaps more whispered in less public gatherings?)) Surely the revolt against Rome would be God-sanctioned and God-sheltered! I can imagine Jesus being tempted in the desert ((Scorcese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ has a brilliant scene along these lines)) by this kind of ‘firm belief’ ((reference to Jars of Clay lyric from ‘Oh My God’; ‘You take away my firm belief, and graft my soul upon your grief.’)), and countering it with the Torah. His messianic path was one that led not to a violent take-over, but to the Cross.
Another observation about some of the theological (as in, not biological) features of the text of Genesis 1… Continue reading idols & fruit
On the 5th day, God filled the skies and seas with all kinds of sky-life (‘every sort of winged bird’) and sea-life (‘swarms of living creatures’). Everything that flies through the sky. Everything that lives in the sea. A few points: Continue reading pre-fall death
I’m really appreciating how significant the theme of freedom is in the Bible.
Freedom is opposed to compulsion, captivity or slavery.
Utterly free of compulsion, God freely acts to create and sustain a free creation, particularly free and dangerous human beings, which constantly, continually and consistently become enslaved, manipulated, captive or otherwise enslaved to and by various kinds of anti-freedom things (aptly summarised as sin and evil). Continue reading freedom
In chapter 10 of his gospel (or not far into the Jerusalem journey narrative as he would have seen it – he didn’t divide his gospel into ‘chapter and verse’), Luke presents an exchange between an expert in the Law (of Moses – i.e. Torah) and Jesus. The lawyer is first trying to ‘test’ Jesus, and uses a fairly standard question of the day to do so.
Both Matthew and Mark also record this question asked of Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I don’t want to bother with the whole discussion of what this question means and what it doesn’t mean (suffice to say that it does not mean ‘how moral must I be to get into heaven after I die’). I’m more interested in how Jesus answers this “law expert”. Continue reading who is my neighbour?
Announcing “Faithful Science“…
A one-day Science & Faith conference – coming August 1.
Speakers and topics: Continue reading faithful science
Jonathan Robinson discusses science and biblical interpretation here.
Ryan Browning responds to young-earth views here.