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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Show Me the Scripture!!! …context…context…context…

This essay is not intended to be a technical manual on how to determine context. Rather, it is meant to demonstrate two examples of misinformation that is being used to demean the Bible. One is a case of lack of citation in which a quote is stated or a general comment is made which is claimed to come from the Bible but no citation is given. The other is a charge of a Biblical contradiction and a demonstration of how easy it can be to find the facts of the matter.

No Citation:
Steve Parker wrote a beautiful book titled Science Discoveries Isaac Newton and Gravity. This book comes with many color images as well as some wonderful wood cut illustrations from yesteryear. Mr. Parker writes,

“Newton was brought up in an atmosphere of change. At the start of the 17th century, the English politician and essayist Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) had called for a new approach to scientific theory based on factual evidence rather than belief. Weight was given to his ideas by the work of Galileo, who in 1632 showed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, as the Bible stated, but that it went around the Sun.”[1]

Those who know the Bible will instantly know that this is utterly false, but those who do not know the Bible should still detect a red flag. What are the common reactions to such an occurrence? One could think—that’s interesting I did not realize that the Bible stated that. Another reaction could be to think—so the Bible states that, fantastic, more fuel to pour on the fires of my unbelief! Finally, there is the red flag approach—why is there no citation to that comment, where does the Bible state that?

A blanket statement without a citation can go a long way and be useful to ones agenda. The problem is that it is poor writing and should always send up a big red flag, be it a Biblical or any other kind of quote or alleged statement.

What now? One could leave it at that and go on believing that a beautiful book about science must have presented accurate information. The antagonistic unbeliever could rejoice in this and the unlearned believer could be shaken. How many people on either side would research whether or not the statement is accurate? A person without Biblical knowledge yet, who actually wanted to be honest in their understanding of the issue would be overwhelmed by picking up a Bible and finding themselves confronted by sixty-six books in which one is searching for one single statement; the old, needle in the hay stack. Thus, the problem with, and possible dishonesty of, failing to cite a quotation or statement.

The fact is that the Bible states no such thing but how do you prove a negative? Well, we could quote the whole Bible and you could see that it states no such thing. A person could ask a knowledgeable Christian and believe what they say on the matter. One could also use a concordance and look up the word Sun, Earth, center, universe, etc.

It is very hard to see where someone came up with the idea that the Bible states that the Earth is the center of the universe. We can understand why an antagonist would state that the Bible includes obviously ignorant and erroneous things and that this attack may not be based on any real information, not based on an actual statement. But is there anything in the Bible that might be able to be manipulated in order to make it seem as if it is stating that the Earth is the center of the universe? The book we quoted makes no such attempt, it merely makes a dogmatic statement without a citation nor quotation. The only thing we could come up with (since there is no such statement) is the following which refers to the heavens and the firmament,

“Their line has gone out through all the Earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the Sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:4-6).
Apparently, this statement could be miSunderstood to mean that the Sun makes a circuit around the Earth. However, note carefully that the verse does not state this and it would actually be very ignorant, scientifically-astronomically speaking, to think that a reference to the Sun’s movement must mean that it moves around the Earth; one would have to presuppose such a connection. We submit that the Bible is stating something that is very astronomically advanced.
What the verse does state is that the Sun makes a circuit from one end of the heavens to the other. The Earth revolves around the Sun, the Sun travels around the galaxy and the galaxy takes its journey throughout the universe.
Thus, the Sun does make a circuit. That this is what the Bible means may be denied by the skeptic because there is no way that those ignoramuses of ancient days could have known that. Of course, that is just the point, maybe they did not or could not have known it but God knew it and He inspired the Bible.

Yet, taken at its most literal level the writer of Psalm 19 is merely stating that when we look up from the Earth the Sun rises on one side and sets on the other. If Psalm 19 was meant to be an astrological textbook we would have some problems. But we use the term the Sun set and rose as a natural part of our speech but the Sun does not set and rise—rather, the Earth revolves. Yet, our language is still accurate because it is a mere description of our vantage point.

What else does the Bible state about the Earth?
While some ancient cultures believed that the Earth was on the backs of elephants, turtles or was being held up by Atlas, the Bible refers to God as, “He who hangs the Earth on nothing” (Job 26:7).

The Bible referred to God as, “He who sits above the circle of the Earth” (Isaiah 40:22) not the flat plain of the Earth. The Earth is defined as circular in its form. I think I recall reading somewhere that scientists have discovered that the Earth is round. In discussing this with a friend, he stated that maybe the people back when this was written thought that the Earth was flat but disc shaped.
I reasoned that the beauty of it is that regardless of the subjective understanding of a particular time and place, we see that the Biblical text is correct in stating that the Earth is circular, we understand what this means. Likewise with the verse regarding the Sun making a circuit. It may be that some people believed that the Earth is the center of the universe and they may have believed that the Bible backed up their claim. But the Bible states no such thing and the Sun does make a circuit.

Dr. Walter Lammerts has written,

“Much has been made of the presumed fact that until Copernicus (1473) published his De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium, the church taught that the Sun goes around the Earth. Actually it was the Scientists who taught this beginning as far back as Hipparchus (160 B.C.). Ptolemy (127-141 A.D.) refined this concept and for over 1200 years it was taught by Scientists as the explanation of the motions of the planets and the Sun. Theologians merely accepted this teaching of science.”[2]

Skepticism is a good thing as long as it is honest skepticism which is not only interested in proving everything wrong as in pessimism or cynicism.

The Contradiction:
Great Events of Bible Times is a beautiful book with consists of large glossy pages, various illustrations, computer generated geographical maps, photos of ancient artifacts and paintings. One of the book’s consultants is the well-known and respected Professor B. M. Metzger; George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. The other consultants are Dr. David Goldstein, Curator of Hebrew Books and Manuscripts at the British Library and John Ferguson, MA, BD, FIAL, formerly President of Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, England. Combined these men have authored and or edited some eighty books. Besides the consultants, the book has eight writers plus an editor, assistant editor and managing editor.

Who would not be intimidated and who would dare to question the information contained in such a publication?
There is a section of the book entitled David and Goliath, which discusses various aspects of the Biblical story. David’s killing of Goliath is found in 1st Samuel 17:50-51. The writer of this section states,

“in a little-known passage of the Bible, the credit for killing Goliath is actually given to somebody completely different – David’s champion Elhanan (2 Samuel 21:19).”[3]

Notice that while the story of David and Goliath is well known it may be because of a little-known passage that you are not aware of a Biblical contradiction. Or perhaps there is another reason to insinuate that a Bible verse could be referred to as little-known. If the verse in 2nd Samuel is little-known then 1st Chronicles 20:4 must be just as obscure because it states the same thing as 2nd Samuel 21:19. But what is there to know since we have already been told that in one place the Bible states that David killed Goliath and in another it states that it was Elhanan? The case is closed isn’t it; we have a clear case of a biblical contradiction.

I suppose that since it is little-known we should probably see what it says. Here it is in the New King James Version,
“Again there was war at Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”

At first glance it appears that there is no contradiction since the verse states that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath. However, as any good Bible student, and any good skeptic, should know that the italics means that the word or words that are italicized are not in the original language but were added by the translators for the sake of clarity or language understandability. And so it now seems that the contradiction stands because removing the italics the verse reads, “…Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite…” Indeed this is just how the New American Standard Bible 1995 ed. renders it,
“There was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”

This is a case in which looking at one single verse is not enough context and so we must expand our research. Let us look at 2nd Samuel 21 but this time verses 15 through 22,

“When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him.

Then the men of David swore to him, saying, ‘You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.’ Now it happened afterward that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbechai the Hushathite killed Saph, who was one of the sons of the giant. Again there was war at Gob with the Philistines, here Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

Yet again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also was born to the giant. So when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.”

This is how it breaks down:
Abishai killed Ishbi-Benob.
Sibbechai killed Saph.
Elhanan killed
Jonathan killed a man of great stature.

The bottom line of this issue is that “These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.” Thus, the answer to the alleged contradiction is that Goliath had four sons and one of them was named Goliath. In our modern language we would call him Goliath the second or Goliath, Jr. Note that before David confronted Goliath, Sr. “…he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had…” (1st Samuel 17:40). This is hypothesis but it may be that David chose five stones because Goliath’s four sons were hanging around and in case they joined the fight David had the five stones one for Goliath and one for each son.

This also comes to show why the italicized statement in the NKJV or any other translations are to be taken with a grain of salt. In this case the italics told us that the man that Elhanan killed was an unnamed brother of Goliath but according to the context that we have just been researching, this man was not the brother of Goliath but was Goliath, Sr.’s son.

Two Quick Examples of Erroneous Bible “helps”
A translation known as The Amplified Bible uses parenthesis in order to amplify the meaning of a word and they use brackets for the same purpose as the NKJV uses italics. They translate John 4:27 as,
“Just then His disciples came and they wondered (were surprised, astonished) to
find Him talking with a woman [a married woman]. However, not one of them asked
Him, What are You inquiring about? or What do you want? or, Why do You
speak with her?”
The insert, in brackets, states that she was “a married woman,” the problem is that the very same translation renders a previous verses, John 4:16-17, as,
“At this, Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband and come back here. The woman
answered, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You have spoken truly in saying,
I have no husband.”

The “help” said that she was married but the text said the she is not.

Another example comes from The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which is published by The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses. The errors in this translation are numerous, obvious and well know. Apparently, wherever the text of the Bible caused conflict to Jehovah’s Witness doctrine they manipulated the text of Scripture until it would conform with their beliefs. They did this until they came up with their own translation (while keeping the names of their language experts secret). This translation renders Colossians 1:15-17 as,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by
means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the Earth,
the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones
or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created
through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of
him all [other] things were made to exist.”
Note the insertion of the word “other” four times in two verses (were have not included them but there are also eight footnotes in these two verses). The point is all too clear; the text is teaching that Jesus created all things and is before all things. Since the Witnesses do not believe this they simply insert the word “other” in order to not simply assist our understanding of the text as it is but in order to radically change what the text is telling us. The four insertions of a word and the eight footnotes come to show how problematic the actual text of the Bible is to the Witnesses and demonstrates to what lengths they are willing to go in order to protect their preconceived notions.

[1] Steve Parker, Science Discoveries Isaac Newton and Gravity (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1995), p. 7
[2] Dr. Walter Lammerts, a review of Test Tube Theology by Paul Maier, Lutheran News (2-24-1964), p. 2 Fr. Lammerts is the Director of Research at Germain’s Horticultural Research Division. He is known as the “Father of Scientific Rose Breeding.” Quoted in Herman J. Otten, Baal or God (New Haven, Missouri: Leader Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 203-204
[3] Great Events of Bible Times—New Perspectives on the People, Places and History of the Biblical World (New York: Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1987), p. 78

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