Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Flood

What do I think of this book by John Walton and Tremper Longman published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always get excited when I see that a new Lost World book has come out. Walton’s books are always very enlightening and this time, he’s teamed up with another great Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman. They are discussing the great flood of Noah in this one and what the text says about it.

The first proposition put forward is the most important one in my opinion. This is that Genesis is an ancient document. Sounds obvious. Right? We all know it, but few of us seem to remember it. We read the text thinking it was written to people like us with a culture like us. That explains our tendency to read science into the text.

They also make the point that it’s not God’s purpose to teach us science in the Bible. We get a message about God’s work in the world. We do not get a message about how the world works. The message transcends any false beliefs that the ancient culture would have, such as the sky being solid and there being a body of water above.

This does not affect inerrancy. Inerrancy is about what the text affirms. The text speaks about thinking with our entrails, but that is not the teaching of the Bible. We do not go there to learn how our bodies work in thinking. We can learn some things about what to think and how to think, but not a scientific assessment of thinking.

The writers also do believe that there is a real event in the past being described. We often make a distinction between the metaphysical and the empirical. They can be different, but for the ancients, the interpretation of the event was much more important than the event itself. For the pagans, that would be their gods were showing their will through the events. For Israel, it was YHWH.

It’s also important to note that with the Genesis flood, we have a divine interpretation of the event right there. We do not have this with events today. Sorry, but we cannot speak with divine authority on why it is that a hurricane or a tsunami happened.

The writers also stress that hyperbole was a part of ancient writing. This goes on in the flood. It is no doubt that the flood is being described in terms that seem global. That does not mean that the flood itself was global. The ark itself is a huge wooden boat even by today’s standards. One can look at Ken Ham’s ark and think it’s possible, but keep in mind that was built using all manner of modern technology. Noah did not have that.

The writers also have a section on other flood accounts in ancient literature. They are there and while there are similarities, there are also vast differences. The biggest are not in the historical details, but in the theological interpretations of the events. These are the most important ones and yet, they’re usually left out.

The next section deals with the flood itself and in the context of the narrative. They show the connection it has to the sons of God passage in Genesis 6 and to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. All of these reflect on the role of order and the importance of the covenant.

The final section relates to how to approach issues of our day with the text. There is a section by another author who argues about the lack of evidence of a worldwide flood. As with many scientific issues, I thought it was fascinating and yet I found it very hard to understand. There’s also questions about how science and Christianity work together today. I agree with the authors definitely that we need never fear science. If it shows an interpretation of Scripture is likely false with good data, then we should really consider it. They rightly cite this informed opinion.

Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned. If they find a Christian mistaken in a subject that they know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions as based on our teachings, how are they going to believe these teachings in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think these teachings are filled with fallacies about facts which they have learnt from experience and reason.

Reckless and presumptuous expounders of Scripture bring about much harm when they are caught in their mischievous false opinions by those not bound by our sacred texts. And even more so when they then try to defend their rash and obviously untrue statements by quoting a shower of words from Scripture and even recite from memory passages which they think will support their case ‘without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.

Reading that, you could think it was written today. It wasn’t. It was written over 1,500 years ago by Saint Augustine. You can read it in his book The Literal Meaning of Genesis. If we believe God offered both the book of nature and the book of Scripture, we need have no fear of any scientific endeavor.

Differences of opinion I have with the authors are on minute points of interpretation of passages and not on major issues. Like all other Lost World books, this one is incredibly eye-opening and enlightening. I highly recommend it and I look forward to the next one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Origins, The Ancient Impact And Modern Implications of Genesis 1-11

What do I think of Douglas Jacoby and Paul Copan’s book published by Morgan James Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If the writer of Ecclesiastes had said that of writing books about Genesis there is no end, he would have been quite right. It looks like often in discussions of the Bible, the two most debated books are Genesis and Revelation. Now another book has been added to the Genesis column.

I want to thank Douglas Jacoby for sending me a review copy of the book. I went through it in about a week’s time or so I’d say. The opening sections are incredibly helpful with discussing how to read the book and discovering what it would mean for the ancient audience. This is something that’s too often forgotten as we look at these kinds of topics. We are so stuck on our Western perspectives. Revelation we read literally because, well, that’s how you’re supposed to read the Bible isn’t it? Genesis we do the same except we read it scientifically literally, as if the ancient writer and audience really had questions of science in mind.

The writers also introduce the readers to pagan thought of the time and other epics about creation and the flood that were around. When you read this book, you will not only get an education in the Bible. You will also get an education in the pagan systems of the time and how they thought.

In some ways, the work reads as a commentary. In others, it doesn’t. This is a work more interested in answering questions from an apologetics perspective. That isn’t to say that other issues don’t come up, but Copan and Jacoby want us to try to understand how we can communicate the message of Genesis to our audiences today.

The writers also do right what they should do and that’s to rely on great scholars in the field. There are a plethora of endnotes and there is a bibliography section with recommended literature. Those who want to know more will have no lack of places to go to find more information.

The writers also tend to stay out of many of the controversies we have today, such as the age of the Earth, evolution, and the range of the flood, although sometimes endnotes do give their positions. Those aren’t the messages they want to have emphasized. Instead, it’s much more focused on what the ancients would have thought about the text as they read it.

The authors also do present interesting theories on many of the questions we have. You can even find arguments about the genealogies. Why is it that there were such long life spans in the book of Genesis? I’m still thinking about their interpretation of that which is worth looking into. Basically, their view is that the base root is 6 and the numbers should be seen differently. There’s a lot more involved and it’s best explained by getting the book.

What I like best is that the sections end by having a look at what has been established, then a look at how it relates to the New Testament, and then application is last of all. What a wonderful method this would be for pastors to take! Don’t take a text and jump straight to application! Instead, take the text and tell us what it meant to them, how it relates to the Bible as a whole, what it means to us, and then give the application!

Jacoby and Copan have given us a fine work to contribute to our study of origins. It is a work that is very reader friendly and the chapters are short enough that they would be appropriate for small group discussion. I recommend getting this one if you care about debates about Genesis.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is The Bible Literally True?

Should we take the Bible literally? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone sent me an article from the Huffington Post recently on if the Bible is literally true. The article is by a Steve McSwain who is described as a speaker, author, counselor to congregations, Ambassador to the Councilor on the Parliament for World’s Religions, and Spiritual Teacher. No academic credentials are listed. He does also describe Christianity as his faith so he claims at some level to be a Christian.

He does say at the start that while he values the Bible, he doesn’t believe it to be divinely dictated or a sacred text without error. I don’t know any evangelical today who really holds to the dictation theory. No doubt, there are some in the rank and file who do, but not the majority.

He goes on to say that if you are a Biblical literalist, that this bothers you. You believe that everything must be literal and it must be error-free. At this, I have a problem. What is meant by literal? It’s a term that’s often used and yet few people really define it. Most people do not think Jesus is literally a door or a vine when He uses that language.

Sadly, McSwain is probably accurate when some people think that if they risk undermining the text or questioning it, they could undermine all of it. Everything goes out the window then. This is the all-or-nothing thinking that many Christians do have and amusingly, many skeptics have that as well. I recall one person on Unbelievable? asking a guest on the show that if the Bible doesn’t agree with how Judas died, then how can we trust that Jesus was crucified?

McSwain goes to the flood accounts and says that they obviously contradict. He points to the differences between verses 2 and 15 of chapter 7. Let’s go and look at what they say.

Verse 2: Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate

Verse 15: Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.

Look. I know that there are possible claims of contradictions and such, but this is not a good one. All that is said in verse 15 is pairs came. It doesn’t specify how many and how many of each kind came. In that case, give the benefit of the doubt to the author instead.

He goes on to say that,

The real Moses never wielded a staff with supernatural powers, the tip of which, when dipped into the Nile, turned the river into a cesspool of blood. Or, when dipped into the Red Sea, caused it to part so Israelites could pass to the other side on dry, not muddy, ground.

None of these Biblical stories, including the ones where Jesus is depicted as defying the laws of nature and performing miracles… as in, walking on water or giving sight to the blind or, most amazingly, raising dead people back to life were recorded as factual, or literal, eyewitness accounts. And, even if they were, they cannot be depicted as such today, if you want any of it to be believed… to be respected… or, to be read with any seriousness.

For the sake of argument, this could be true, but the problem is McSwain gives us no reason to believe any of this. I also have to wonder what kind of Christian he is if he denies any miracles at all. Again, McSwain’s case could hypothetically be right, but he has given us no reason to think so, that is, unless you just come out and agree that miracles don’t happen, but that is the very thing under question.

As for the idea of eyewitness accounts, it would be nice to see some interaction with scholarship, such as Richard Bauckham, but we can suspect that won’t happen. Statements of faith are problematic no matter who says it. Unfortunately, mayn people will read McSwain and believe it because, well he’s in the Huffington Post, and do so without any real reason why they should believe it.

What matters to McSwain is how the stories have shaped the lives of those who hear its message. This can sound good, but while it’s great that people have their lives changed, do we want to enforce the Noble Lie? If Christianity is not true, then there is truly no resurrection, no heaven beyond this world, no hell to shun, no forgiveness of sins, no real love of God.

It’s hard to believe that the early church was really excited about that.

McSwain has a watered down faith. Note I have not said he has to embrace inerrancy, but he seems to have just embraced that Christianity is all about being a good person and the truth of the Bible does not matter. If anything, the truth of the Bible matters abundantly. If it is true that God lived among us and that Jesus died and rose again and there is real forgiveness and a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid and eternal life in resurrected bodies, I should think we would want to know it. If it is not true, then who really cares? But if it is true, it matters greatly. As has been said, if Christianity is not true, it is of no importance. If it is true, it is of the utmost importance.