“Gotcha” Proofs by Young Earth Creationists

The following photo of the substructure of the Lincoln Memorial was posted on January 16, 2023, by an Admin on the Facebook page, Biblical Creation:

Fig. 1: The substructure of the Lincoln Memorial, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. As posted by Biblical Creation.


Here is the text they posted with it:

Anyone who has ever visited a cave has heard the evolutionist claim that stalactites and stalagmites growing in the cave take, on the average, a full century to grow only one inch and grow to be 40 feet or so only after several thousand years. Or so evolutionists once thought. For those who believe this along with millions of cave visitors each year, hundreds of thousands of years of Earth’s history begin to become a reality before their eyes. But the question is, does it really take a century to grow one inch of stalactite?

When the Lincoln Memorial was built during the 1930s, the engineers sank steel cylinders into the bedrock to anchor the monument. The base of the memorial is set high above ground, leaving a cavernous basement beneath the floor. Rainwater seeping through the marble floor has formed stalactites up to five feet long on the basement ceiling! This growth is an inch per year, not per century! The Earth is not millions of years old or even hundreds of thousands of years. We know from Biblical history and geneaologies [sic] that God created the Earth just thousands of years ago. Biblical truth always trumps man’s scientific theories. 

As an old earth creationist, I believe that Genesis 1:1 happened much earlier than 4004 BC, but that God Almighty did, literally, through His awesome and limitless power, create the universe in its entirety. But, according to these people, whether I believe in evolution or not (and I don’t!) I am an “evolutionist”.

According to the above, evolutionists evidently no longer believe that it takes thousands of years, on average, for a stalactite to form, because the Lincoln Memorial proves otherwise. But what does the picture actually show?

To begin with, most of the Memorial, including all of the structure seen here, is concrete. The statue of Lincoln and the surfaces in the chamber surrounding it are in fact marble. Marble is calcium carbonate rock, just like caves with speleothems—stalactites and stalagmites. But the caves and the speleothems are native limestone. Marble is limestone that has been modified (metamorphosed) by the temperatures and pressures caused by thick overburden sediments. Both are water soluble, but the solubility is measurable, and yes, it normally takes a long time. Fig. 2, below, is a photo that I took of a marble and limestone structure that has been standing out in the open for around 2400 years. It has been damaged by human wear and tear, by earthquakes, and even by a 17th Century Venetian bomb, but for the most part, rainwater has had minimal effect on the stone itself.

Fig. 2: The Parthenon, in Athens, Greece. ©Ron Thompson, 1970.

At any rate, seepage between quarried and assembled blocks of marble or limestone can’t in any way be compared to seepage through the pores of native limestone! I can show you buildups of calcium carbonate in the water pipes in my house, too, but that has no bearing on the age of the earth. As usual with young earth creationists, there is no actual scientific analysis presented to back up the claims associated with their photo. My assumption is that the so-called “stalactites” are leeched salt, not calcite at all!

Atheists who attempt to use theology they don’t understand to disprove the Bible are fools. Christian apologists who try to use scientific principles or findings they don’t understand to shame science are also fools, and this “gotcha” post is very foolish.

As a devout Christian engineer retired from a geological field, I have a foot in both camps. I agree that “Biblical truth” always trumps scientific theory, but when there is a real conflict between the two, one must at least consider the possibility that traditional interpretations of Scripture might be flawed. It has happened before.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. ©Ron Thompson

For more about my views on Creationism in general, please read https://gpront.blog/2022/08/04/the-hijacking-of-creationism/

Light Yes, But Why Salt?

[Scriptural quotations from ESV unless otherwise noted]

13 “You are salt for the Land. But if salt becomes tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except being thrown out for people to trample on.
14 ¶ “You are light for the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Likewise, when people light a lamp, they don’t cover it with a bowl, but put it on a lampstand, so that it shines for everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:13–16 CJB

Christian theology often tends to forget that the Church did not yet exist when Jesus spoke these words. In fact, it did not exist until believing Jews and non-Jews had both been given the indwelling Holy Spirit, and that did not happen until after Jesus’ Ascension. His earthly ministry throughout His First Advent was specifically to Jews, not to the unborn Church, and not to non-Jews in general. In Matthew 10:5b–6, He told his 12 apostles-in-training, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In Matthew 15:24, when he was asked by a Canaanite woman to rid her daughter of a demon, He responded by telling her that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

That is certainly not to say that He rejected overtures of faith by non-Jews. He ultimately granted the request of the Canaanite woman, and in Matthew 8:10b, He granted the petition of a Roman centurion and told His followers, “With no one [else] in Israel have I found such faith.”

But the fact remains that Jesus’ ministry, and in fact the whole of the four written Gospels, were directed to Israel. When we fail to recognize that fact, we open ourselves to the heresy of misappropriating Scripture. In this post, I am addressing one example of such error in discussing the concepts (plural) of “salt and light“, which Christians almost always discuss as if it were a “Church thing”, and just one thing. I do believe there is an important Church application, and I’ll address that near the end.

Please read this post as an academic exercise for improving our understanding of Scripture, not as criticism of any well-meaning individual or organization.

The context of the message

Matthew 5–7 is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. “Sermon” may be too strong a term, because it is unclear which group Jesus was speaking to.

1 ¶ Seeing the crowds, Yeshua walked up the hill. After he sat down, his talmidim came to him,
2 and he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
—Matthew 5:1–2 CJB

The fact that Jesus was sitting, which limits voice projection, and that only the talmidim are mentioned as following Him up the hill, raises the question: was it an oration to all the people milling around, or just those gathered around closest to Him?

View from the possible location of the Mt of Beatitudes. The hillside is now, of course, the home of an ornate monastery, with immaculate gardens overlooking Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). Photo © Ron Thompson, 2008.

The term ὄχλουςα (ochlousa) is translated crowds, above, or multitudes in the KJV. This is an odd plural, sort of like “infinities”. Two infinities are still just infinity. Two crowds are still a crowd. I suppose it could be like “the crowd on His left and the crowd on His right”, but the term is always used for the group of people following Him, so that is unlikely. Roy Blizzard and David Bivin, in their book Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, suggest that ὄχλουςα is a technical term referring to “the inhabitants of the surrounding area”, which might be an actual “multitude”, or might be just a few people.

Drones like the religious leaders that the Sanhedrin sent to follow Him from place to place would be a separate group mingled in and on the fringes of the gathered locals. Thir function was much like the Soviet trawler back in my Navy days that always trailed along behind my ship, an aircraft carrier, in the Mediterranean. When they had opportunity, they steamed in among the destroyers and frigates of our task force, spying and occasionally harassing.

There were probably at least some underemployed “seekers” in the mix, as well, following from place to place hoping for some sort of healing or salvation. Many probably finding what they sought.

The folks gathered more closely around Jesus and probably sitting near Him on the hill were His talmidim, or disciples, and verse 13, about salt would have applied more to them than to the larger group (see below). Whichever it is, Matthew 5:11–16 was clearly applicable only to Godly Jews when it was spoken.

Salt and Light to whom?

Before addressing the meanings of “salt” and “light” in Matthew 5, I think it important also to answer the question, who were to be the recipients of the salt and the light? I used the Complete Jewish Bible to quote Jesus’ words, above, because I think it correctly differentiates the two Greek words that the English Standard Version renders as “world”.

St. Augustine Lighthouse, © Ron Thompson 2001

In verse 14, “world” is a translation of the Greek κόσμος (Kosmos). In the modern world, the term “cosmos” refers to the universe as a whole, but in ancient times, the heavens above were thought to be merely a dome, or a sheet draped above the earth we inhabit. So, in effect, κόσμος referred to the world as a whole, consisting of all nations. Israel was, indeed, understood to be commissioned as God’s evangelist nation to the rest of humanity.

In verse 13, a different word, γῆ, or Ge, is used. In general, γῆ can, in fact, be translated as “world”, but I think that when connecting the word to Israel, it is almost always proper to default the translation to “land“, meaning specifically, Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Jesus’ listeners here were being told to be “salt for the Land”, i.e., a preservative for the people, or Covenants, of Israel. Not for the greater earth. Similarly, in verse 5, we are told that the meek will “inherit the land”. This is certainly true. It is a direct quotation from Psalm 37:11, which taken in context is clearly referring to Israel’s eventual peaceful habitation in the Land of Israel.

Light for the world

I will discuss the question of light before salt, because Christian usage of this term is more straightforward than that of salt.

As is expressed many times in the Tanakh, or “Old Testament”, particularly in the poetic Psalms and Prophets, the concept of “light“, where physical light is obviously not meant, primarily pertains to knowledge of truth. To shine a light, in this respect, is to bring the knowledge of salvation. It is clearly this idea that Jesus had in mind in the Matthew 5 text. This, I think (and most would agree), is borne out by his quotation of Isaiah 8:23–9:1 in the preceding chapter, Matthew 4:

12 ¶ Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.
13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ¶ “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
—Matthew 4:12–16 ESV, emphasis added

However, there are a number of other symbolic usages of the term in the Tanakh, and I think that in some sense, all of these can be read into Jesus’ words. I will list some of these, with examples from the ESV:

To lead people forward—as God’s sh’kinah leading the Israelites through the darkness of the Wilderness:

Neh. 9:19 You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.

To lift the hearts of people—as God’s protection of the people menaced by Haman:

Esth. 8:15–17 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday.

To expose sin—as God’s exposure of evil nations and rulers:

Job 12:21–25 He pours contempt on princes
and loosens the belt of the strong.
22 He uncovers the deeps out of darkness
and brings deep darkness to light.
23 He makes nations great, and he destroys them;
he enlarges nations, and leads them away.
24 He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth
and makes them wander in a trackless waste.
25 They grope in the dark without light,
and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.

To bring health and life from illness and death—as suggested by Elihu’s reproof of Job:

Job 33:28–29 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.

To bring confidence—as expressed by David after his deliverance from Saul:

Psa. 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?

Salt for the Land
Sea Salt. Photo from myactivenutrition.com

While the Jewish concept of spreading “light to the world” represents God’s entire reason for Israel’s election as His chosen people—the total evangelization of all peoples on earth—

the “salt” concept has nothing to do with evangelization and is much more limited in scope.

From the example references to “salt”, below; from the record of history; and from a correct translation of γῆ (see above), it is clear to me that by exhorting His listeners to be “salt“, He was commanding them to function as His Covenant people, and by their words and actions, to be a preservative for the Godly remnant in Israel. Only such a Godly remnant could possibly function as evangelists to the world at large.

In the Ancient Near East (ANE) before written records were as ubiquitous as they later became, contracts and treaties were often “sealed” by ceremony. Salt, because of its preservative qualities and its flavor, was often part of such ceremonies. That practice was so prevalent that it was incorporated into Biblical covenants and covenant-related practice without explanation. The first mention in scripture is the instruction for preparation of incense to be burned in the Tabernacle:

34 ¶ The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part),
35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.
—Exodus 30:34–35 ESV

Grain offerings were also to be seasoned with salt:

You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
—Leviticus 2:13 ESV

Contributions to the priesthood from consecrated meat offerings were to be salted:

All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.”
—Numbers 18:19 ESV

The public water supply of the city of Jericho was miraculously purified through application of salt by the prophet Elisha:

19 ¶ Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.”
20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.
21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.”
22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
—2 Kings 2:19–22 ESV

When confronting Jeroboam’s army, Judah’s King Abijah invoked the eternality of the Davidic Covenant by pointing out that it was regarded as a covenant of salt:

Ought you not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
—2 Chronicles 13:5 ESV

Application to the Church

The Church consists of two groups which, together, Scripture refers to as “the Commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12-13): (a) a Godly remnant of physical Israel; and (b) Godly non-Jews grafted into the first group. A full discussion of this doctrine (see Romans 9–11, for example) is beyond my scope here, but both of these peoples, in unity, clearly bear the responsibility to bring light to the world. It is less clear but probably equally valid to assert that both peoples share a responsibility to bring preservatory ministry to each other and to the converts attracted to the light.

I am not pronouncing anything earthshaking in this post. I am pointing out a technical inconsistency in Christian teaching, but not suggesting that we are grossly misdirecting our efforts. I simply think that it is better to correctly understand the Jewish foundations of the Church.

Implications of God’s Omnipresence and Eternity in Space-Time

I have had trouble writing this because God’s Creation is so astoundingly complex that it has taken me over three months to settle on a narrative that avoids rabbit trails that are vitally interesting to me, but probably boringly obtuse to many of my readers.

My intention here is to explore two of God’s divine attributes that I think are very closely related, and to speculate, in the simplest terms I can come up with, how they might have additional implications in the light of modern physics.

“Theology Proper”

Any formal study of God and His creation is going to start with a textbook categorized as a “systematic theology.” The section of that book concerned with the nature and characteristics of God Himself is called a “theology proper.”

Intelligently discussing God’s Attributes is a tough task, because God Himself told us only what He determined we need to know, and the Bible was written in an age when both the inspired human writers and the intended readers couldn’t begin to understand all of what was written, or the vast majority of the topic that remained unwritten. In some cases, it seems to us as if some really important explanation is omitted that we would very much like to know. For instance, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit can only be inferred from “hints” scattered throughout Scripture. Even the term “Godhead,” which at least sounds somewhat Trinitarian, is merely an infrequent translation of the Greek qeoteß, (theotes), which actually means simply “deity.” Paul used the term as a polemic against Colossian, gnostic pantheism, not as a theological description of the Trinity.

Why is there no specific Biblical mention of the Trinity? Well, perhaps it is because the ancient writers (and to a lesser extent, even today’s highly educated theologians) had no scientific or linguistic tools sufficient for the task. Explaining the Trinity is beyond the ability of even 21st Century Theologians. There is no known analog to make it clear to us. I suppose, personally, that it has something to do with the nature of sentience (consciousness—having senses and perceptions) without physical substance. “Spirit,” in the Biblical sense, is something that our best modern science can’t detect or explain. It isn’t matter. It isn’t energy. It is independent of either and in God’s case, it is superior to both.

Author and educator John C. Lennox suggests that man’s spirit, which is, in life, associated with his body, is what God means by His “image.” Dictionary definitions of “image” include terms like “reproduction”, “imitation”, “likeness”, etc., most of which imply that an image is in some way inferior to the original. God is spirit, whereas man’s spirit is confined to a physical body now, and even when that body is glorified, will still be constrained to locality.

Many Christians, if asked, would say that only Scripture is valid truth. I believe that the perceptions of man’s imperfect spirit are capable of much understanding, even of issues that aren’t fully addressed in Scripture. To this end, I am going to blend in a little human science.

Scientists do two things, for the most part really well: they collect data; and they propose explanations. In either order; in fact, frequently in iterations. Sometimes the explanations have a devious political or theological aim, but more often than not, it’s just enquiring minds wanting to know. Honest data collection can’t possibly hurt us, because it is our God who provides the data!

I am going to combine the concepts of God’s omnipresence and eternity in following sections, but classically they were considered to be entirely separate Divine Attributes.

Omnipresence

Classical views

God’s omnipresence means that He is present, everywhere in the cosmos, simultaneously and fully. He is here and aware of His surroundings, at this moment, in my home office where I am typing this post. At the exact same instant, He is present and aware of plasma currents in the heart of a star billions of light-years from my office. Not just one star—all of them, everywhere. And then, there are also the falling sparrows…

At the same time, He is present on a throne at a location we call “heaven,” where the Bible pictures Him communicating with angels, prophets and sundry other beings. Where His throne and its setting are described in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation, I think that the prophetic visions are not to be interpreted as a specific place, but rather as an interface between God and others, depicted in such a way as to convey glory and holiness to limited ancient understandings.

Of course, the Bible also depicts God as from time to time present at specific localities, for example: in a burning bush; outside a cave on Mt. Horeb; in a pillar of cloud and fire; above the Ark of the Covenant; and in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later the Temple. These “theophanies” were instances where God chose to show a localized physical manifestation of his presence to reassure His people that He is more than just a disembodied concept.

Defining the cosmos
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). This is a 2008 long exposure photograph of a very tiny area of the sky, and each item shown is a separate galaxy. From Wikipedia.

The astronomical term “cosmos” is defined by Merriam Webster as “an orderly harmonious systematic universe.” After millennia of honest science by many Christians and non-Christians, the current most popular view is that our universe (in my view, the only universe there is) is about 93 billion lightyears (550,000 billion-billion miles) in diameter—and that’s just the part we can see! A rough estimate that has been cited for years is that there are at least a hundred billion galaxies in the universe, with an average of a hundred billion stars per galaxy. That is probably conservative. It appears that most stars are associated with planetary systems like our Solar System. Most planets probably have one or more moons. But there is so much more out there than stars, planets and moons!

That’s the big stuff. Looking at the small stuff, most of you are somewhat familiar with the concept of atoms and molecules. You know that atoms consist of protons, neutrons and electrons. Actually, there is a whole “zoo” of other particles around us that are less familiar. Stars mostly burn Hydrogen. Our own sun burns around 200 million tons of hydrogen, the lightest of all elements, every second, and has enough left to keep burning for 4.5 billion more years.

God in the cosmos

God’s omnipresence means that He is present throughout the universe, as well as enfolding its entirety within the envelope of His presence. His omniscience (all-knowingness) assures that He is aware of every last particle within that volume, and His omnipotence (all-powerfulness) assures that His control extends to even the smallest sub-atomic particle within the volume. Does this mean that He is constantly propping everything up, or “micro-managing”? Clearly, He can fiddle wherever He wants to, and clearly (from Scripture), He occasionally does, but He is the author of the laws of physics, and I’m quite sure He is more than capable of having designed it to be self-sustaining! An automotive engineer can design and build a car, but he can also drive it without manually spooning gasoline to each cylinder. I trust my God, and I also trust what He has built and what He is continuously supervising.

The late Henry Morris rejected the “uniformitarian” concept that geological processes worked the same way in the past that they do today. But throughout his book, he mischaracterized the concept, as he did the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Both of those principles are valid only in a closed system, meaning no external interference. Both principles would say that an acorn dropping from the oak tree outside my office window will fall to the ground. But if I reach out and catch it, I haven’t violated the principle, I’ve simply violated the explicit assumption that the tree, the acorn and the ground was a closed system. My hand invalidated the assumption by making the system “open“. Was a world-wide flood possible without God’s intervention? Actually, yes, the physical laws make it highly unlikely, but don’t prohibit it. But we know that God intervened, so the laws didn’t apply in that case. (See Fountains of the Deep.)

Parenthetic: Is God’s omnipotence limited?

I think that most conservative theologians would say that it is! For example, Wayne Grudem states:

…it is not entirely accurate to say that God can do anything. Even [Scripture passages] must be understood in their contexts to mean that God can do anything he wills to do or anything that is consistent with his character. Although God’s power is infinite, his use of that power is qualified by his other attributes (just as all God’s attributes qualify all his actions). This is therefore another instance where misunderstanding would result if one attribute were isolated from the rest of God’s character and emphasized in a disproportionate way.

Grudem’s Systematic Theology (2nd ed.)

Many have added what I think should be self-evident, that God can’t violate simple logic. No, He can’t make a rock so heavy that He can’t lift if. That is a paradoxical absurdity. And no, He can’t make 2 plus 2 equal 6 (need I add, “in base 10”?). It is what it is.

Eternity (Timelessness)

Classical views

God’s attribute of eternity is comparable to His omnipresence, in that it defines His all-encompassing span of existence in time, rather than space. He is not only everywhere, but also everywhen. He is Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End. His temporal span is from eternity past through eternity future. When, at the burning bush, Moses asked Him His name, God replied in two ways. First,

God said to Moshe, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh [I am/will be what I am/will be],” and added, “Here is what to say to the people of Isra’el: ‘Ehyeh [אֶהְיֶה, I Am or I Will Be] has sent me to you.’”
—Exodus 3:14 CJB

The above is commonly taken to be an expression of God’s timeless existence; effectively, “I am now what I always have been and always will be.” This, however, is not so much a name of God as a statement of His nature. His “covenant name” delivered in the following verse, is a wordplay on the Hebrew ehyeh:

God said further to Moshe, “Say this to the people of Isra’el: ‘Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh [ADONAI], the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz’chak and the God of Ya‘akov, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered generation after generation.
—Exodus 3:15 CJB

The 4-letter Hebrew name given here, יהוה, known as the “Tetragrammaton,” is commonly transliterated and pronounced as Yahweh (or, Jehovah), but the vowels, and thus the pronunciation, are inferred rather than known. Strong’s defines it as “(the) self-Existent or Eternal“, but again, I think that this is an inferred, not a known, meaning, and based on the wordplay, I prefer to regard it as a proper name.

Defining time
Sorry, but illustrating timelessness isn’t easy. Some of you will recognize this as the BBC version of a time machine. Dr. Who’s disguised TARDIS.

Time, of course, is the concept that you perceive the present, remember (or not) the past, and anticipate (or not) the future. Physicists relate this to entropy, which some define as randomness, but that definition is deceptive. More accurately, a quantity called “degrees of freedom” increases. Newton’s Second Law says that, in a closed system (see above), entropy increases. At the risk of depressing you, an organism eats and assimilates its food, and grows. It may appear to be getting less “random” and more like an “organized” entity, but the fact is that each cell and biochemical molecule is simply part of a cycle of maturation and eventual death and decay. More cells mean more degrees of freedom. More stuff to go wrong. Scattered raw materials can be gathered and processed, and a useful machine can be manufactured, but all such constructs eventually wear out and fail, becoming scrap. “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

Space and Time: Spacetime

Both spacial and temporal location can be specified either relatively (here, there, now, then) or absolutely, using coordinates (for example, with rulers and clocks). But—think about this—are space and time merely abstract concepts, or are they real, tangible, things?

Space is most definitely real. It is not, as once thought, just the vacuum through which the “stuff” of the universe floats and moves. Now, observation and theoretical research suggest that space itself has properties that differentiate it from whatever is outside the universe. Time is evidently one of those properties, so also must be a real thing. Hold on to this concept: In the “old days”, the universe was thought to be an area in space; now we consider the universe to be space, time, and everything else that we know exists. Except, in my Christian “worldview”, for God and His realm, which are both outside the universe and permeating it to the smallest subatomic particle.

In 1905, Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity provided a theoretical framework for unifying the concepts of space and time. It turns out that there is a physical and geometrical relationship between the two seemingly unrelated concepts. To greatly oversimplify, if an accelerating object passes you at a high velocity, it will appear to you that it is foreshortened in the direction of motion, and that time is passing more slowly on it than on your own platform. The important thing in the present context (this post) is that both space and time appear to be—and in fact are—distorted, and their distortions are mathematically related. These effects are not easily seen except at velocities that are a significant proportion of the speed of light. It certainly does sound counterintuitive, but by now, the physics has long since been proved and integrated into modern technology.

God in time

Apologist author William Lane Craig, in his book Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time, examines the question of whether God’s Eternality implies that He exists within the framework of time or outside of time, looking in. In rather tedious detail, he approaches the question from the standpoints of theology, physics, and philosophy, and reaches the conclusion that God must exist within time in order to keep His bearings, since there would evidently be no temporal landmarks to go by.

Hmm… Lane is a very smart man who clearly embraces God in all His majesty, and he has obviously devoted a lot of thought and research into the subject. But his logic here, frankly, escapes me. God’s omnipresence means that He both envelopes and inhabits everything outside and inside the universe. His attribute of eternity implies the same with respect to time. The relativistic connection of space and time reinforces that implication. I see no reason that He should ever be disoriented, in any fashion. An expanded definition of “omnipresence”, then would state that

God simultaneously and instantaneously sees and remembers everything that exists and occurs at all locations in both space and time.

Note that I threw in the word “instantaneously” because, while nothing in the universe can travel faster than the constant speed of light, that is a limitation of space itself. Space with its enclosed stuff is expanding faster than the speed of light. There is no speed limit outside the universe.

What does Quantum Physics add to the picture?

A lot, and I only recently began probing the theological implications.

Newton’s First Law of motion states that, An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force. We call that tendency “inertia.”

It turns out that this law doesn’t hold for extremely small objects. We’ve known for about a hundred years that small objects like electrons and photons move in ways that are fundamentally unpredictable. The best you can ever do is calculate a probability distribution. Which was hard for many physicists, including Einstein, to accept, because they believed in a “deterministic universe“—if you know where everything is now, and the forces on it all, then theoretically you can predict the future. Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Make no mistake, he wasn’t a theist. What he meant was that he didn’t believe in a future determined by chance.

What does this randomness in nature mean, theologically? Warning: from here on, this is just my own speculation, not something from either science or theology. Take it or leave it. If there is randomness in the universe, then that can only be because God wanted it that way and designed it that way. If the future is truly random, then presumably even He can’t predict the future. <shock!!!> But God needn’t predict the future when He can see it! Remember, He lives in all times simultaneously. God fore-knows because He fore-sees.

Why would God have designed it this way? Perhaps it’s because He wanted to give the denizens of the universe freewill! That does not mean He’s lost control of the universe. Three reasons:

  1. Large objects, like stars, planets and even baseballs and marbles, have enough inertia to obey the First Law.
  2. If you flip a coin once, you’re equally as likely to achieve one result as the other, but if you flip it a thousand times, it’s virtually 100% sure that the total number of heads and tails will be very close to equal.
  3. And, of course, God not only sees the future, but He can nudge it in any way that He sees fit. His sovereignty means He can, not that he necessarily does!

Summary of Judgement Seat and Crowns in Heaven

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.
—Revelation 22:12 ESV

This past Sunday, late in Bible class, someone raised the subject of “The Judgement Seat of Christ“, “crowns“, the “Bema” and so on. There was no time for me to put in my own two cents, but it is a subject that touches me personally. I was raised in a very legalistic fundamentalist church, and the whole question troubled me at the time more deeply than any other doctrinal issue. If “Jesus paid it all“, “not of works, lest any should boast“, and heaven is the carefree paradise we’ve been led to believe, then how is it that the first thing that happens after the Rapture is that we face judgement, possible humiliation in front of our peers, and maybe worse still, potential forfeiture of a fancy, jeweled crown to wear in our new mansion over the hilltop? And what’s the point of working hard for a crown if we have to give it right back, by “casting it at Jesus’ feet“?

This is a diversion from what I’ve been working on, a discourse on God’s omnipresence in space and time, and what that implies about creation, so I’m not going to do an exhaustive study of this subject. I’d be reinventing the wheel anyhow, because the late J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M., did an excellent job of nailing it down in an article, The Doctrine of Rewards: The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ. Below is a short summary of aspects that I have pondered over the last few days:

The Judgement Seat of Christ

The term “judgements” is used many times in Scripture, mostly regarding punishment. I am limiting this discussion to the major formal judicial reviews of the End Times recognized by many conservative theologians. There are variations in terminology, and some count three or five but for this purpose, I’m going with the diagram below, which lists four. In general, I think that the source book shown in the caption is pretty good, though I question LaHaye’s own previous judgement, in view of the terrible theology in his Left Behind series.

One view of the end-time major judgements, from Charting the End Times, by Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, ®2001.

The “Judgement Seat of Christ” is the most common name used by Christian theologians for the evaluation of Christians that occurs after the Rapture. The diagram shows the Rapture occurring simultaneously with the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation period. I strongly believe in a “Pre-Trib” Rapture, but I don’t think that Scripture requires the Tribulation to happen immediately after the Rapture. I personally think that there will be a time of major geopolitical developments on earth between the removal of the Holy Spirit and all Christian influence, on the one hand, and the beginning of Tribulation on the other. The war of Ezekiel 38 and 39 may be one of them (see The Coming World War: Gog and Magog).

Purpose of the Judgement Seat

This is emphatically not a judgement for sin, because Jesus’ crucifixion paid that cost, but rather an evaluation of the quality of our service. I think for a twofold purpose: (1) for recognition and kudos; and (2) for handing out of assignments. As discussed in Keathley’s article, the Scriptures imply that the Raptured Church will function administratively during the Millennial Kingdom. I don’t know that I can definitively back this up from Scripture, but my personal impression is that our individual responsibilities in the Kingdom will be based on our aptitudes and attitudes shown during our mortal lives. Although without sin, our glorified selves will still be recognizable, both physically and by non-physical personal traits.

Timing of the Judgement Seat

Many scholars (e.g., Keathley) show it at the beginning of Tribulation, others (e.g., LaHaye and Ice) show it as taking place during the entire seven-year span. I would say the beginning, and not the entire span. Why? First, because of its connection with Rosh Ha-Shanna, coming up in late October this year (see below), and also because I think that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be the focus in heaven during the period. Christian scholars tend to ignore Jewish cultural analogs when interpreting Jewish Scripture. Even though all Scripture is Jewish! Jesus (Yeshua ben Yosef) and most of the Gospel protagonists were thoroughly Jewish, and all but one of the canonical writers was Jewish. The exception being Luke, who I think was a Jewish convert. Jewish wedding customs in the 1st Century clearly pictured Jesus’ relationship with the Church, His bride (see Jesus and Hebrew Wedding Imagery). The Jewish wedding supper was a seven-day feast, so I think there is ample reason to think that the heavenly marriage supper might span seven prophetic days.

How could all of that “evaluation”, of all the Church saints from two Millenia of Church history, be accomplished virtually instantaneously? That is something I’m already working on for my next post: In God’s “native” realm, there is no such thing as “time”, or even “space”. He is independent of both and unbound by both. He exists simultaneously everywhere and everywhen. In 2 Peter 3:8, the apostle is paraphrasing Psalm 90:4 when he says that, to God, a day is as a thousand years. That is poetic language, not literal. The truth is, he could have said a million, or a billion, or trillions and trillions. Or conversely, a femtosecond (10-15 seconds), for example, is no more obscure to Him as a day.

The Bimah—Jewish, too, not just a Greek concept!

Here is where I depart from Keathley and other Christian scholars.

The Greek term béma (βεμα, pronounced BAY-muh) is defined by Strong’s as “a platform to which someone [ascended] to receive judgment; (figuratively) the administration of justice – literally, given from “a tribunal-chair” (throne) where rewards and punishments are meted out.”

The Hebrew term bimah (מִמַּה, pronounced BEE-muh) is no doubt related, and has a similar meaning in general, but, for our purposes here, there is a much more specific meaning, attested as early as Neamiah’s time, in the Persian era. According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, the word means an “elevated place“, more specifically a “platform in the synagogue on which stands the desk from which the Torah is read. Occasionally the rabbi delivers his sermon from the bimah, and on Rosh Ha-Shanah the shofar [ram’s horn] is blown there.” The reading desk is also often referred to as a bimah. Significantly, I believe that the Rapture will occur on a Rosh Ha-Shanah (also known as Yom Teruah, The Day of Trumpets; see The Jewish Feasts: Part 11, Trumpets)!

Reading at the bimah, Bialystoker Synagogue, New York, N.Y., U.S.
©Juda S. Engelmayer
Parenthetic notes on the photos...

Above: The photo above shows three men standing at the bimah table in a small synagogue in Lower East-Side Manhattan. The synagogue is never called a "temple" by orthodox Jews, but it nevertheless serves many of the Temple's functions in the post-Temple world. The bimah stands near the center of the room, just as the altar stood in the center of the Court of Priests. The man seen in this photo in his woolen tallit (prayer shawl) is standing at the table with his face to the aron HaKodesh (the Holy Ark, a cabinet in which one or more Torah scrolls is stored. In this synagogue, the Ark is behind the red tapestry. Most likely the reader is not the rabbi, but rather a congregant who has been invited to "make aliya", or "go up" onto the bimah to read assigned passages from the Torah. Typically, when the Torah is taken out to be read before the community, one person reads the Torah, and that person is surrounded on either side with two gabbaim (as here) who ensure that the Torah is being read and treated respectfully and accurately.

Below: The photo below shows another feature of early synagogues, associated with the bimah, that I think is germane to this discussion—the "Seat of Moses". 
The restored “Moses Seat” in the synagogue of Korazin, in Galilee.

The Bimah Seat

Also associated with the bimah platform was “the seat of Moses”. This seat was used by a scribe or other authoritative interpreter of scripture. Today it would be the rabbi. In Matthew 23, Jesus validated the authority of the interpretations made from the seat of Moses, even though, in the same breath, He said, effectively, “Do as they say, not as they do.”

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,
so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
—Matthew 23:1–3 ESV

I think that, to understand the concept of the Judgement Seat of Messiah, you have to consider the Jewish concept and not just the Greek. We will be evaluated in the heavenly realm, not for sin, but for our performance in light of God’s expectations for His people as expressed in Scripture. Jesus will be the one, sitting on a heavenly bimah seat of Moses, who will be evaluating us and handing out crowns.

Crowns

Sad to say, even as a young adult, my vision of kingdoms and crowns was informed mostly by Walt Disney. So, I pictured literal golden streets and pearly gates in heaven, my home a palace, and on my head a jewel-encrusted crown. I think now that the glitz and bling is meant to convey a sense of beauty and purity, not to arouse materialistic jealousy and greed. The crowns may not be literal headwear but are certainly meant to convey the Greek and oriental picture of the victor’s laurel wreath.

In every case, the Greek word for these “crowns” is stephanos, for which the proper translation is “wreath”, i.e., a chaplet worn as a badge of royalty, honor or victory. The royal crown is always a diadem. Jesus’ crown of thorns was a stephanos, so it was most likely an ironic insult from the Roman soldiers, not something ordered up by Pilate as a complement to his sign of indictment nailed on the cross.

Depiction of Jesus’ crown of thorns, photographed in the back garden of the Bible Times Center, Ein Kerem, Israel. ©Ron Thompson, 2008.

A common Christian tradition says that at some point after receiving crowns at the bimah, we will cast them back at Jesus’ feet in adoration. This appears to be a corruption of Revelation 4:10–11, where 24 elders sitting in a circle of thrones stand and cast their own stephanos in front of the central throne, occupied, apparently, by Yahveh, the Father, not the Son:

10 the 24 elders fall down before the One sitting on the throne, who lives forever and ever, and worship him. They throw their crowns in front of the throne and say,

11 “You are worthy, ADONAI Eloheinu, to have glory, honor and power, because you created all things — yes, because of your will they were created and came into being!”
—Revelation 4:10–11 CJB

The Hijacking of Creationism

Over the last several months, I have adopted a new favorite author. His name is John C. Lennox. Among other things, he is a Cambridge-educated Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and he has written a number of books on subjects that have interested me for many years.

Author, Educator, Mathematician and Philosopher, John C Lennox. BBC Photo.

Most of his opinions on the intersection of theology and science seem to match my own very closely. In particular, a point from his book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, particularly resonates with me.

Conservative Christian scholars have mostly agreed that God miraculously created the universe, that humans descended from a real Adam and Eve, that the Genesis Flood was real, and that science does not trump Scripture!

But not all of those are “Young Earth” Creationists, and not all believe the theory, stated nowhere in Scripture, that the universe’s appearance of vast age is due to the Genesis Flood. Now, unfortunately, according to Professor Lennox (and my own observation), you are no longer free to reject those views.

Today, if you say you are not specifically a “young earth” creationist, then you will automatically be viewed by most of your Christian peers as a denier of Scriptural inerrancy and an “Evolutionist“. A large percentage of conservative Christianity, including major influencers like John MacArthur Jr, who I greatly admire, accept Henry Morris’ flood theory more or less uncritically.

The so-called “flood theory” was popularized by Morris in 1961 in a book that he co-authored with theologian John Whitcomb, titled The Genesis Flood. I recall first reading the book in the late 70’s or early 80’s. It was formatted into two sections, the first being a theological treatment by Whitcomb, and the second a mechanistic approach by Morris, laying out his theory that the apparent age of the earth was caused by rapid erosion and redeposition of silt caused by earth-rending, catastrophic flooding, accompanied by massive earthquakes and tsunami surges. After reading Whitcomb’s exposition on the Biblical evidence for a worldwide flood, I was an enthusiastic fan of the book. That enthusiasm faded when I read Morris’ section. I found his grasp of fundamental geology and physics to be highly flawed, and his argumentative style (e.g., “any fool can plainly see…”) to be insulting.

1976 edition of The Genesis Flood

The believability of The Genesis Flood was greatly enhanced by a Foreword (not included in the latest edition) written by an eminent geologist, John C. McCampell, PhD, of the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Unfortunately, book Forewords don’t always get read with the same concentration as the body. Dr. McCampbell did not endorse the theory! What he endorsed was Morris’ Christian worldview, fairness and independent thinking! The appliable paragraph read:

"From the [Foreword] writer's viewpoint, as a professional geologist, these explanations and contentions are difficult to accept. For the present at least, although quite ready to recognize the inadequacies of Lyellian uniformitarianism, I would prefer to hope that some other means of harmonization of religion and geology, which retains the essential structure of modern historical geology, could be found."

Morris billed himself as a “hydrologist“. He was educated as a civil engineer. Part of that degree would have trained him to understand the forces on and within dams and conduits (including riverbeds) subjected to hydrostatic pressure and hydrodynamic fluid impingement stresses. As a government employee working for a joint US/Mexico commission tasked with monitoring the Rio Grande boundary waters, he may have done some of that, but I suspect that his job was mostly administrative, recording flood data and channel-shifting. Aside from that position, I believe that the rest of his career, before and after, was spent teaching civil engineering. I see nothing in this background that would obviously quality him to draw the conclusions he did in The Genesis Flood!

To me, the term “hydrology” implies much more than what Morris apparently did in his professional life. The US Geological Survey discusses the field broadly here. Wiktionary provides a more succinct definition, which I think works well:

Hydrology: Noun
1. The science of the properties, distribution, and effects of water on a planet's surface, in the soil and underlying rocks, and in the atmosphere.
2. The properties, distribution, and flows of water in a specific locale; the hydrological characteristics of a particular place or region.
I must now establish my own credentials for entering into this critique of Young Earth Creationism in general, and the Flood Theory in particular.

My undergraduate studies at the University of Texas were in math and physics. My intention was to do my postgraduate studies in astronomy, but after a 2-year Naval tour, practical considerations induced me to accept a graduate fellowship in Petroleum Engineering, instead.

Part of the apparatus for my Rock Mechanics thesis, 1975

My professional field, petroleum engineering, particularly my main specialty of reservoir engineering, was in many ways related to subsurface hydrology. Oil and natural gas are always found in association with water. Below the water table, earth’s crust is almost always entirely saturated with one or more of these three liquid components or something less common, like carbon dioxide or helium. Because of capillary forces, water will usually share the pore space to some extent with other fluids. Water has to be dealt with in all phases of exploring for and then exploiting hydrocarbons.

Typical well log suite, downloaded from USGS

I had some of the same hydraulic engineering training as Morris (dams, weirs and channels), although on a more basic level, but most of my education and years of professional experience were more geological in scope. I dealt with almost anything relating to sedimentary rocks and stratigraphy: where the constituent particles originated; how they were weathered, transported by erosion, deposited, cemented, chemically modified, saturated and disrupted by viscous fluid flow within their pore space or fractures; and how they were subsequently modified by folding, fracturing, compressing, uplifting, and sometimes being exposed at the surface or under the sea, and beginning the cycle all over again. I collected and analyzed cores, drill cuttings, fluid samples, pressure profiles, and electrical resistivity and radiation data. From all that, I had to make reasonable estimates of how much, if any, and what types of hydrocarbons were deep underground, who owned the mineral rights in the drainage area, whether it could be profitably retrieved, by what means and how fast, and ultimately, how much profit is to be expected. I was answerable to my employers, clients, government agencies, royalty owners and/or financial lenders. Sometimes I worked closely with geologists and legal folks, but mostly I worked for small companies and had to do pretty much all of it myself.

Alternate Christian theories to account for the apparent vast age of the universe.

I will have more to say on Morris, the Genesis Flood, and my own views on creation (both the science and the theology) in future posts. Some I wrote years ago, but I plan to rework and repost them. The rest of this post will be a discussion of the Conservative traditions that current “creation culture” now considers to be unacceptable.

In his book, No Final Conflict, Francis Schaeffer lists several areas where, in his judgment, there is room for disagreement among Christians who believe in Creationism and the total truthfulness of Scripture:

1. There is a possibility that God created a “grown-up” universe.
2. There is a possibility of a break between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or between 1:2 and 1:3.
3. There is a possibility of a long day in Genesis 1.
4. There is a possibility that the flood affected the geological data.
5. The use of the word “kinds” in Genesis 1 may be quite broad.
6. There is a possibility of the death of animals before the fall.
7. Where the Hebrew word bārāʾ is not used, there is the possibility of sequence from previously existing things.

Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (the text used at Calvary Bible College when I was there) lists the following Conservative theories, which mostly fit into the scope of Schaeffer’s comments, above:

  1. The gap theory holds that there was an original, quite complete creation of the earth perhaps billions of years ago (the creation mentioned in Gen. 1:1). Some sort of catastrophe occurred, however, so that the creation became empty and unformed (1:2). God then re-created the earth a few thousand years ago in a period of six days, populating it with all the species. This creation is described in Genesis 1:3–27. The apparent age of the earth and the fossil records showing development over long periods of time are to be attributed to the first creation. The catastrophe is often linked to the fall of Satan (Lucifer). Creation then lay in ruins for a long period of time before God rehabilitated or restored it.16
  2. The flood theory views the earth as only a few thousand years old. At the time of Noah, the earth was covered by a tremendous flood, with huge waves with a velocity of a thousand miles an hour. These waves picked up various forms of life; the mud in which these forms were eventually deposited was solidified into rock under the tremendous pressure of the waves. The various rock strata represent various waves of the flood. These unusual forces accomplished in a short period what geologists believe would ordinarily require three billion years to accomplish.17
  3. The ideal-time theory says that God created the world in a six-day period a relatively short time ago, but that he made it as if it were billions of years old. This is a genuinely novel and ingenious view. Adam, of course, did not begin his life as a newborn baby. At any point in his life he must have had an apparent (or ideal) age many years older than his actual age (i.e., the number of years since his creation). The ideal-time theory extends this principle. If God created trees, rather than merely tree seeds, they presumably had rings indicating an ideal age rather than their real age. Thus, each element of creation must have begun somewhere in the life cycle.18
  4. The age-day theory is based upon the fact that the Hebrew word יוֹם (yom), while it most frequently means a twenty-four-hour period, is not limited to that meaning. It can also mean epochs or long periods of time, and that is how it should be understood in this context. This view holds that God created in a series of acts over long periods of time. The geological and fossil records correspond to the days of his creative acts.19
  5. The pictorial-day (or literary-framework) theory regards the days of creation as more a matter of logical structuring than of chronological order. The author arranged the material in a logical grouping that took the form of six periods. While there may be some chronological dimension to the ordering, it is to be thought of as primarily logical. The account is arranged in two groups of three—days one through three and days four through six. Parallels can be seen between the first and fourth, the second and fifth, and the third and sixth days of creation.20
  6. The revelatory-day theory. The days were not successive days on which God did the creation, but days on which the story of creation was revealed. So the truth of the account took place in six twenty-four-hour periods, but the actual creation may have taken much longer than that.21

Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, lists more or less the same group of theories, and goes into much more detail on all questions of creation.

Ryrie’s Basic Theology, Charles Ryrie, presents a subset of the above, but without specific names. He is far more concerned about the creation of Man, specifically, than the Universe in general. That’s not a bad approach!

Erickson himself favors the ideal-time theory, as you might guess from the wording of paragraph 3 above. He states that it is “in many ways irrefutable both scientifically and exegetically but presents the theological problem that it makes God an apparent deceiver.” I would agree that any theory that does not incorporate an assumption of vast actual age would have to include this form of apparent age in order to account for function via the known physical laws. In fact, I would compare it to a movie started in the middle. Virtually everything about the universe appears very much to be aged, and in fact would have to do so. I am more concerned with the suggestion of deception than Erickson is, in view of the following, which tells me I should be able to trust my senses:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
—Romans 1:20 ESV

Erickson’s second choice seems to be the age-day theory, but to my mind that idea conflicts with the use of “yom” as it appears in Genesis 1, where I am pretty much wedded to solar days.

Grudem sums up his opinion as follows: “My strong encouragement to the entire Christian community is that both old earth and young earth viewpoints should be acceptable for leaders in evangelical churches and evangelical parachurch organizations.”

Ryrie is somewhat non-committal regarding the Universe but does seem to favor a young earth. He is staunchly against biological evolution, as am I.

Some combination of the pictorial-day and revelatory-day theories seem to be favored by another contrarian, John Walton. I like Walton very much, but I’m not convinced of his arguments in this respect.

Like many Christians of my age, I grew up with a Schofield Reference Bible, and I liked Schofield’s favorite, the gap theory. I no longer use that term and have a different slant on it than I used to, but I’ll discuss my views on that in a later post. For now, call me “a two-flood, old earth creationist with all mankind descended from a recent, literal Adam and Eve.”

A Perspective on Biblical Covenants and Dispensations

Evangelical Protestant theologians for the most part fall into one of two categories: Covenentalists or Dispensationalists. Both groups talk about “Biblical Covenants”, but they differ sharply on the definitions and theological implications of these covenants, and how Salvation History (Soteriology) should be understood.

Most Christians that run in my circles have at least a passing knowledge of the Biblical “Covenants.” I am not going to go into detail here on the form and function of Ancient Near East (ANE) covenants and treaties. Rather, my limited goal in this post is to briefly discuss Covenant Theology, which I firmly reject, and then list the well-known Covenants between God and Israel and point out their loose relationships with the Dispensations that most of my Evangelical friends hold dear. I must point out that I am closer to the Dispensational Theology camp than to Covenentalists, but I don’t share their tent either. Allow me to simply beg off of accepting either of those labels.

Typical outline of an Ancient Near East Covenant or Law Code, from the Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps and Reconstructions, © Copyright 1993 Broadman & Holman Publishers
Covenant Theology is named for three particular Covenants that they embrace:
  • A “Covenant of Works“, aka, the Edenic Covenant. God said to Adam (paraphrased), “I’m giving you all this stuff, but if you do this sin, then I’m taking it away again.”
  • A “Covenant of Redemption“. When Adam sinned and relinquished the benefits of the Edenic Covenant, the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, established this Covenant among Themselves wherein the Son would come to earth, live a totally sinless life, and then die a substitutionary death. Thus, it was a covenant of Jesus’ works, not of man’s.
  • A “Covenant of Grace“. All of subsequent human history falls under this Covenant.

So far, that all sounds pretty reasonable, but the devil is in the details, so to speak…

The Covenant of Redemption is a problem for me because Jesus always gave His Father executive credit. Nowhere in Scripture do I see Son or Spirit questioning, disagreeing with, or asking for a say in the Father’s decisions.

I fundamentally agree that all of humanity since the Fall has been dependent on God’s grace, but Covenant Theology goes on to erase the distinction between Israel and the Church, which I will dispute to my dying breath. They claim that the Israel of promise was not the physical “seed of Abraham”, but rather consisted only of elect individuals. They say that this “Spiritual Israel” of the Old Testament Jews and the Church of the New Testament are one and the same entity. The promises of God “to Israel” applied only and always to this entity. Through a process way beyond the scope of this brief study, many Old Testament “laws” and “customs” have been replaced and subsumed by New Testament upgrades (e.g., male circumcision has now become, thanks to interpretive magic, infant baptism), and things that were important to Physical Israel alone have now been abandoned (e.g., a Promised Land in the Lavant, which they insist is no longer relevant). Another consequence, which I will not explain here, is that Covenant Theology is in general amillennial, and rejects the possibility of a future Rapture of the Church, as well as a Millennial Kingdom.

Dispensational Theology rejects the above and originally believed that history is divided into seven periods during which God dispensed salvation according to different sets of standards:
  1. innocence (Gen 1:1–3:7),
  2. conscience (Gen 3:8–8:22),
  3. human government (Gen 9:1–11:32),
  4. promise (Gen 12:1–Ex 19:25),
  5. law (Ex 20:1–Acts 2:4),
  6. grace (Acts 2:4–Rev 20:3), and
  7. the millennial kingdom (Rev 20:4-6)

I don’t think that most Dispensationalists today take those seven Dispensations to outline different requirements for salvation, because most now recognize that salvation is and always has been by grace, through faith. Rather, they view the Dispensations as progressive revelation of God’s will for man’s behavior and for right fellowship with God. Most Dispensationalists believe that Israel and the Church are entirely separate institutions, and most recognize that Israel will once again take center stage after a literal end-times Rapture of the Church—points with which I am in complete agreement.

The Biblical Covenants, and how some think they relate to Dispensations

If one feels the need to categorize history into Dispensations, have at it. Personally, I think that such lists are somewhat contrived and artificial. History is already pretty well categorized by Covenants that God made with mankind in general, and then with Israel in particular. I’m going to show below that the list of Dispensations above roughly corresponds to periods punctuated by the Covenants.

Most of these Covenants are clearly defined by one or more passages of Scripture. Bear in mind that any promise made by God has the force of a covenant, because what God promises, He delivers. I’m restricting the conversation below to major Covenants recognized by most theologians.

That said, some are a little less clearcut than others. For example, Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, in their book Charting the End Times, ©2001 and 2021, list the first two Covenants as (a) Edenic, Gen 1:28-30, 2:15-17; and (b) Adamic, Gen 3:14-19. The Dispensational online source CompellingTruth.org (CEO S. Michael Houdmann), on the other hand, lists Gen 1:26-30, 2:16-17 and 3:15 under the single umbrella of the Adamic Covenant. My own approach to these Scriptural references, as shown below, differs from both these approaches.

I take a contrarian position that all of the Covenants listed below are unilateral, unconditional and unending:
  • Unilateral, in the sense that God set the terms and laid out the requirements. He didn’t say, “if you want”, He said, “I will”.
  • Unconditional, in the sense that God knew that His creation is morally incapable of meeting His standards. He set standards and consequences, but no possible failure on the part of His people could permanently cancel the ultimate promises.
  • Unending, in the sense that early Covenants are not replaced by later ones. Each and every one builds on the previous.

Although salvation has always been by Grace, through Faith, the details of the relationship between saved humanity and God has been governed by the Covenants I will discuss below.

The First Covenant. (Gen 1:26-30) Most would call this the Edenic, or perhaps the Adamic, Covenant, but at this point, Day 6 in Genesis 1, both Eden and Adam have yet to be mentioned. By His one-sided pronouncements, God here gave to man dominion over the earth and its life; and to men and animals, He gave the right to a vegetable diet. He also here gives to man the first commandment mentioned in Scripture, to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it”. Because it was first, many orthodox rabbis consider this to be the most important of all commandments. Note that God’s pronouncements here are unilateral (no response asked for or given). Some would say they are conditional because Adam was banished from the garden, but what is expressed in Genisis 1 evidently pertains to the earth in general, not to the Garden in particular. Again, neither Adam nor the Garden are mentioned in Gen 1.

Dispensationalists associate the “Dispensation of Innocence” with the period from Adam’s creation on “the sixth day” to his Fall. Some place the Fall on the 33rd year of Adam’s life, in parallel with the start of Jesus’ ministry on the 33rd year of His life. This is possible, but wholly without Biblical evidence. My view is that Adam, with no knowledge of good and evil until the Fall, had no propensity to willfully sin, i.e., he had no “sin nature”; nevertheless, he was “suggestible” because he also had no propensity to take God at His word. Therefore, I conclude that he was not truly an “innocent”!

The Adamic Covenant. (Gen 2:15-17) Here God put Adam in the Garden, gave him permission to eat freely from vegetation specifically in the Garden, but listed one exception and a curse for violation of that one prohibition. This is, again, a unilateral Covenant (no response asked for or given).

Many would insist that the Adamic Covenant is conditional and came to an end with the expulsion from Eden. Not so! In this Covenant, God promised blessings and a provisional curse. Eden is lost, but mankind is still under the curse, and will be until we enter The Eternal State. Paradise lost; Paradise regained. Since God’s plan for earth flowed from Adam, through Noah and the patriarchs to Jesus, I consider the Adamic Covenant to be an essential and unconditional early paragraph in all of God’s Covenant history.

Some scholars include Gen 3:14-19 in the Adamic Covenant, but I would say that these verses simply describe the effects that came from imposition of the curse of 2:17. Specifically, the passage contains curses directed at Satan (14-15), Eve (16), and Adam (17-19), respectively.

On the other hand, the curse on Satan found in 3:15 “he will bruise your head and you will bruise his heel”, is also a promise of blessing for God’s elect. I would perhaps regard this as a third, and separate Covenant, but I don’t have a name for it.

The period between the Fall and the Flood are considered by some to be “The Dispensation of Conscience“, but again I find fault with this idea. Human conscience is informed by so-called “natural law“, common-sense principles of morality and interpersonal ethics endowed by our Creator. Since the non-Jewish Church is not bound by Mosaic Law (see below), and since salvation has always been by God’s grace, we are essentially under the same system now as then, though with more knowledge at our disposal.

Peak of Mt. Ararat, iStock, from The ESV Archaeology Study Bible, ESV® Bible
Copyright © 2017 by Crossway.

The Noahic Covenant. (Gen 9:8-17); some would include with this Gen 8:20-9:17). The first use of the Hebrew term for “covenant” (b’riyt) is in Gen 6:18, where God promises to establish His Covenant with Noah after the flood. In Gen 9:1ff, God blesses Noah’s family and repeats the commandment to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth”. He then expands their food supply to include animals, so long as their blood is not consumed, and he cursed those who shed human blood—this is not, in my view, a commandment regarding capital punishment, but merely a promise that God will judge and avenge. Finally, He promised to never again destroy the earth with a flood and designated the rainbow as a reminder of that pledge. This is, again, a unilateral Covenant. Noah was given no choice in the matter. It was also clearly unconditional.

The rules established in verses 1-7 are known to Judaism as the “Noachide Laws“, which govern all of mankind. They have been expressed in slightly different terms over the millennia and were interpreted by James in Acts 15:28-29 as the minimum requirements that Jews in the Church would expect of non-Jews in order for the two groups to have mutual fellowship.

By the way, the sign of this Covenant was not a color pattern; it was a specific class of physical phenomena related to light refraction through mists, so there is really no reason to waste time on anger against “misappropriation of the rainbow sign.” Condemn the sin, but just ignore the flags.

The period from the flood to Abraham is said by some to be “The Dispensation of Human Government“, because they believe that the command to execute killers implies a call to self-government; but as mentioned above, I think that Gen 9:5-6 is a curse, not a command. The scattering from Babel, Gen 11:1-9, is in one sense, an indictment on human government, as is God’s warning to Israel in 1 Sam 8 that they would not be happy if they were ruled by a king. The fact that human government always ends up repressing Godly worship should be a warning against enthusiasm for any human government.

Patriarchal Canaan, from Bible Knowledge Commentary

The Abrahamic Covenant. (Gen 12:1-3 and numerous other references: 17:4-8; 22:15-18; 26:3-4; 28:13-15) With this Covenant, God established Israel as His Holy People. The “contract” was described to Abram (later called Abraham) by God and then was formalized by Him in the manner of ancient treaties (Gen 15). Years later, the terms of the Covenant were repeated and expanded, and Abraham responded by circumcising himself and the male members of his household (Gen 17). Still later, it was ratified with Isaac (Gen 26) and Jacob (Gen 28). One more restatement and clarification of the Abrahamic Covenant was delivered through Moses (Deut 30). In this important passage, God ties the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants together and states that Israel’s enjoyment of the Abrahamic promises will ebb and flow insofar as they incur the blessings and curses of the previous chapters of Deuteronomy.

It is important to note that the Abrahamic Covenant did not apply to Isaac’s siblings, nor to Jacob’s, but it did apply to Jacob’s 12 sons and all their physical descendants. There is pretty much unanimous agreement outside of Covenant Theology that this is an unconditional and unilateral Covenant between God and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s descendants.

The period from Abraham to the Exodus is said by some to be “The Dispensation of Promise“, in which man’s relationship with God was supposedly governed by man’s faithfulness in living up to God’s behavioral expectations in light of the promises made to the Patriarchs. This is perhaps expressed in Gen 18:19 (CJB) “For I have made myself known to him [Abraham], so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of ADONAI* and to do what is right and just, so that ADONAI* may bring about for Avraham* what he has promised him.” Yet, I think that this brief parenthetical passage is meant merely to explain God’s rationale for giving Abraham the opportunity to intercede for Lot and his family.

Jebel Musa, the traditional site of Mt. Sinai. ©2017 Oak Tree Software

The Mosaic/Sinaitic Covenant. (Ex 20 and, by extension, most of Exodus through Deuteronomy) This is the most widely known of the Old Testament Covenants, but at the same time it is one of the most misunderstood, for several reasons. In brief:

  • The Covenant was not set up to enslave the Israelites or make their lives difficult, but rather to give them a sense of purpose and unity and to set them apart from other peoples, in a special relationship with God.
  • Christians tend to think of this as a works-based Covenant, and over the ages there have indeed been many Jews who have followed its precepts legalistically, but Scripture does not support that view. Salvation has always been by God’s grace.
  • The Hebrew word Torah means “teachings“. The Greek nomos indicates “that which is assigned or parceled out” What the Covenant dispenses is a fuller understanding of the nature and will of God, and the conduct that He demands from His elect people, Israel to set them apart from other peoples.
  • Orthodox rabbis count 613 commandments in Torah. Observance of these mitzvoth is a response of faith, never a means of salvation.
  • Deuteronomy” is from a Greek term meaning “Second Law”, but that is not what it is. The Hebrew name of the book is D’varim, meaning “words”, or “matters”. As with other books of the Torah, it is derived from the first sentence, in this case, “These are the words that Moses Spoke…Exodus through Numbers provided history about and guidance for the Israelites as pastoral nomads in the period between the Exodus and the Conquest. Deuteronomy is reinforcement, and adjustments for a settled, agrarian lifestyle in the Promised Land.
  • Christian statements like “we were once under Law but are now under Grace” and “we are bound by the moral law, but not the civil or ceremonial” are meaningless, because non-Jews were never bound by the Mosaic Covenant. When Paul said, “you are not under Law but under Grace”, he was speaking to non-Jewish Believers who were never bound by the legalism of Torah observance.
  • Like each of the other Covenants, it is unilateral.
  • Also, like each of the others, it is unconditional. Disobedience forfeits blessings and brings on curses, but it doesn’t cancel promises (see Deut 20 and nearly all of the Prophetic Books)! Like every other Biblical Covenant, the Mosaic is still effective for the people to whom it was addressed.

The period from Moses to Jesus is said by many to be “The Dispensation of Law“. Both classical and modern Dispensationalists—in fact I think most Christian theologians—believe that the Mosaic Covenant was conditional, and that it was cancelled by God because “the Jews refused to recognize their Messiah.” Many Dispensationalists localize this nullification to Mt 12, especially vs 24, where some Pharisees accused Jesus of being Satan, thus committing the “unpardonable sin.” Others place it at Jn 19:30, when Jesus, on the Cross, said, “It is finished.”

The Davidic Covenant (2Sam 7:11-16) Though at first glance this is a Covenant with the House of David alone, God told David, “Your house and your kingdom will be made secure forever before you” in verse 16. My conclusion is that it therefore falls into line with all the other Covenants I am covering here in being unilateral, unconditional, and unending.

Dispensationalists, in general, don’t see a new dispensation here.

The New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34 and elsewhere). As stated very clearly in vs 31, this Covenant is with the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It is not a Church Covenant, though the Church also benefits.

Note well: The Mosaic Covenant was never a failure! It did no less—and no more—than God intended. Without the internalization of the Holy Spirit there was never a chance that God’s people could live up to His demands and standards, but it taught them His nature, and what those demands and standards look like.

What the New Covenant added for Israel includes an internalized Holy Spirit; national regeneration; universal Jewish salvation ate the end of Tribulation; regathering to the Land; restoration of the Kingdom; and a return of God’s Sh’kinah to a glorious Millennial temple. Plus, a breaking down of barriers between Messianic Jews and non-Jews in the Church.

For Israel, the New Covenant is, like the others, unilateral, unconditional, and unending. For believing non-Jews, the benefit is a grafting into Israel, as part of God’s New Testament Church.

The period between the Acts 2 Pentecost and the Rapture is considered by Dispensationalists to be the Dispensation of Grace. This term is an obsolete holdover from the days when most Christian theologians considered the Church to be “under grace” and pre-Christian believers to be “under law”. Paul did frequently mention being “under law”, but he was most surely not talking about people being saved by keeping “the Law”. Rather, the precepts, or commandments, of the Mosaic Covenant were to be a response of obedience by a righteous Jew. Keeping the Law to appear righteous was, and is, hypocrisy. Some Dispensationalists are now calling the present age the Dispensation of the Church.

The Millennial Reign of Messiah is not defined by another Covenant but is instead the culmination and combination of all the Covenants. Since there will be a new Temple, as described by Ezekiel, and since there will be sacrifices in that Temple, some theologians assume that the Mosaic Covenant will be reinstated during this thousand-year period. My own belief is that the Mosaic Covenant never came to an end and is still in effect today. I believe that ethnic Jews, even as members of Christian churches or Messianic Congregations, should be “observant”, or “keeping the Law.” Few are, and since this doctrine is basically unknown today, I’m not critical of righteous Jews who ignore it.

To Dispensationalists, the seventh and final dispensation is appropriately called, the Kingdom Dispensation, or alternatively, the Messianic Dispensation.

Roads to Salvation?

What is the best way to lead people to salvation in this modern age? I don’t want to offend folks in the churches I attended for years, but my opinion has changed as I’ve aged. I have come to agree with those who say that a scripted approach, using a recipe of verses pulled out of context and a magic, “follow after me” prayer, is not the most effective solution.

When I was in college, some of my Christian friends were handing out “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts and using those as talking points during personal evangelism.

Before that, as a teen, and for many years thereafter, I was taught to “witness” using the “Romans Road to Salvation“.

There is nothing wrong with these tracts or using them for talking points. They are certainly well-intentioned, and they present legitimate Scripture. But I’m an old guy now, and looking back on my life, I don’t know for sure if I ever won a single convert with these methods. I heard professions of faith, certainly, but my efforts to disciple these people were always rebuffed. I don’t think I can name or even picture a single one who demonstrated Biblical salvation afterwards.

What did show positive results was driving busloads of kids to church every week and simply chatting with them about Jesus. That makes sense in light of my own experience as a child. I was taught all the “Bible stories” by Godly parents and teachers, and I have never doubted them. By the time I was eight I belonged to God.

Even as a youth, though, I often wondered why God, in His infinite wisdom, would hide the recipe for salvation by scattering it around Romans like that. Why not just come out and say it? Well, He did, actually! For example, from the “faith” chapter:

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
(Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

I didn’t need a cookbook to find Jesus. God drew me to Himself and put me in an environment where I would learn about right and wrong, repentance, and Jesus.

The Jordan River in Galilee. ©Ron Thompson

Opening the Golden Gate

In the various Facebook Archaeological groups that I frequent, there are often discussions about the Eastern, or “Golden Gate”, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Most tourists are probably introduced to the Mount by way of the overlook on the Mount of Olives. From that viewpoint, you get a wonderful, panoramic view of the eastern wall. The first three features of that wall that you notice are the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top and the grand gate in the wall—The Golden Gate. Oddly, it turns out that almost everybody is hugely impressed by the gate, but almost nobody comes away from Jerusalem understanding its history or its prophesied future.

Golden Gate, eastern wall of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem. ©Ron Thompson 2008

The mythology of the Golden Gate has several common features that I think are confusing to some people:

  • Some equate the Golden Gate with the Beautiful Gate of the Gospels.
  • It is said that Muslims sealed the gate and established the cemetery in front of it in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering through it.
  • Many people believe that Jesus entered Jerusalem through this gate on the first Palm Sunday.
  • It is commonly believed that this is the “Eastern Gate” through which the Divine Presence left the Temple before the Exile
  • It is further believed that Jesus will one day triumphantly enter the Temple through this same Eastern Gate.

A brief overview of the Temple, past and future

By one way of thinking, there have been four Jewish Temples on Mt. Moriah, with two more coming in the future. Two of the historical Temples have simply been extensive upgrades due to declining physical condition, so they aren’t considered to be separate new Temples.

Although there are important variations in the construction from one Temple to the next, many important details are the same for all, because the specifications for those are either Biblical or were unalterably decided by the rabbis and codified in Jewish law.

The “First Temple”

Solomon’s original Temple complex, shown below, was ornate, but relatively small. The Temple itself was built on a small platform erected on the threshing floor purchased by King David from Araunah the Jebusite. Solomon built a large palace for himself adjacent to the Temple platform and connected to it by a stairway.

First Temple, and Palace of King Solomon, Jerusalem. ©Leen Ritmeyer

Over the following 400 years, both edifices crumbled from age. Various kings made repairs and upgrades. Hezekiah in particular, demolished much of what remained and built a new Temple on the site, much as Herod did in Second Temple days. Hezekiah’s Temple, shown in the next diagram, was built on a much larger platform, a square, 500 cubits (around 875′) on each side. As with all renditions of the Temple, the doors leading to the Temple porch and antechambers faced east towards the Mount of Olives. A separate eastern gate named, appropriately, the East Gate was set into the eastern retaining wall, near the northeast corner and recessed below the level of the platform.

First Temple as Rebuilt by King Hezekiah, Jerusalem. ©Leen Ritmeyer
The “Second Temple”

In 586 BC, Hezekiah’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian army, and the 3rd and final deportation of Judeans into captivity began. The retaining walls were damaged, but not totally destroyed. When Jews returned decades later to rebuild the temple, the East Gate was repaired. It was renamed the Shushan Gate, because a memorial picture of the Palace of Shushan was portrayed on it.

As for Zerubbabel’s “Second Temple” itself, it was built along similar lines as before, but it was a pale imitation of what Solomon’s craftsmen had produced. In Intertestamental Times, under Hasmonean rule, it was upgraded, and the platform extended to the south. Then after the Romans conquered Judea, their appointed puppet ruler, King Herod, gutted the entire edifice, rebuilt the structures (but again based on the same general plan), and again extended the platform, this time to the north, south and west. The Shushan Gate remained in its previous location.

Herod’s Temple, in Jesus’ time. ©Leen Ritmeyer. Mr. Ritmeyer is widely regarded as the ultimate authority on the architecture of everything associated with the Temple Mount, and I believe that he has definitively established that the Dome of the Rock is sitting where the Holy of Holies should be.
The “Tribulation Temple”?

Of course, there has been no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem since Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. I believe that some time before the Tribulation period, the Gog and Magog war prophesied in Ezek 38 and 39 will result in the complete incapacitation of the Israeli and Arab militaries, setting the stage for a peace agreement to be administered by the Antichrist. I believe that part of the agreement will enable Israel to hastily build a very short-lived Temple that will function during the first half of the Tribulation; but this is only my opinion, and beyond the scope of this post.

Ezekiel’s “Millennial Temple”

In 573 BC, Ezekiel was given a vision of a new Temple to be built in Jerusalem. He records that vision in great detail in chapters 40 and following of his prophetic book. In an excellent book entitled Messiah’s Coming Temple, John W. Schmitt and J. Carl Laney, analyze both the design of this temple and the use to which it will be put. It bears a superficial resemblance to previous Temples, but is by far the largest, and in even some of the “essential characteristics”, it differs from them in ways that do not correspond to Jewish law. This is because its purpose will be different in many respects, as outlined in the Schmitt/Laney book. The three outer gates on the model pictured below are, from the right, the north, east and south gates. By the time this Temple is built, I believe there will be no trace left of the present Temple platform or the Golden Gate.

Model of the Millennial Temple, ©John W. Schmitt
The “Golden Gate”

All versions of the Temple faced east, with an eastern door, or gate. All were surrounded by one or more courtyards, and each of those had an east-facing gate. The preexilic East Gate, the postexilic Shushan Gate, and the present Golden Gate are all apparently at the same location. The “monolithic gate posts” shown in Ritmeyer’s diagram, below, were most likely the lentils of the Shushan Gate so, though somewhat elevated, the Golden Gate, probably built in the 7th Century under Umayyad rule, incorporates the earlier gates. An arch covering a mass grave was discovered below the gate in 1969, and for a time it was thought to be the actual Shushan Gate arch. Instead, it appears that it was part of a staircase connecting the elevated gate with the ground level below.

The Golden Gate, architectural drawing. ©Leen Ritmeyer
The back side of the Golden Gate, from the Temple Mount platform. The doors lead into a quadruple-domed chamber. ©Ron Thompson 2008

Questions and answers about the Golden Gate

To the best of my ability, I will now respond to the list of questions mentioned at the top of this post.

Is the Eastern Gate the same as the Beautiful Gate of the Gospels?

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.
—Acts 3:2 ESV

It is not credible that beggars would seek alms at a gate that was used only by priests, and that only rarely. Nor is it likely that the Beautiful Gate was the ornate, nearby Gate of the Pure and Just, the eastern gate of the Court of Women; that gate was only for VIPs, and we know that they tended to be stingy. I believe, along with many, that it is the Double Gate on the south side of the Mount, with its beautiful domed passage through to the interior Hulda Gate. That gate would see not only the largest crowd, but probably the most generous.

Is it true that Muslims sealed the gate and established the cemetery in front of it in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering through it?

More or less. When the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman I, learned that Jews and Christians expected the Jewish Messiah to be led onto the Temple Mount by the Prophet Elijah, he ordered that it be permanently sealed, in AD 1541. Knowing that Elijah would not defile himself by passing through a cemetery, he ordered that one be established outside the Gate. Later, plague victims were buried in a mass grave at the foot of the Gate.

Is it true that Jesus entered Jerusalem through this gate on the first Palm Sunday?

The answer is, no, in part because the Shushan (Susa) Gate was never open to the general public. The sages of the Mishnah pretty much ignored Herod’s extensions to the Temple Mount, so when they wrote about the gates, they were referring only to the gates giving access to the 500-cubit square platform. According to them, the Temple Mount gates were used as follows:

A. Five gates were in the [wall of the] Temple mount:
B. two Hulda gates at the south, serving for entry and exit;
C. Qiponos [Kiponus] gate on the west, serving for entry and exit;
D. Tadi gate on the north, serving no purpose at all;
E. the Eastern Gate—
F. on it is a picture of the Walled City of Shushan—
G. through which the high priest who burns the red cow, and the cow, and all who assist in its rite, go forth to the Mount of Olives
[M. Par. 4:11.]
—Middot 1:3 MISH-N

Another Mishnah tractate indicates that the scapegoat, Azazel, was also led through this gate each year on Yom Kippur.

Most Internet maps showing Jerusalem in Jesus’ day indicate a switchback road from the Kidron Wadi, ascending to the eastern gate. If that road existed at all, I think it would have been for ceremonial use only. Yet another tractate indicates that an arched causeway crossed the Kidron from the gate to the Mount of Olives where the red heifer ceremony was conducted. In any case, the Shushan Gate would have been inappropriate for access to the city, because pack animals would have to be led up the stairway to the gate, and once on the Temple Mount, they would have to pass through the outer courts and exit through another Temple gate to get to the city.

How, then, did Jesus enter the city? There were probably two routes in from Bethany. The map below shows the dubious switchback road, and a road to Jericho that may or may not be correct. Other maps say that Jericho travelers came in through Bethany on the road shown here. The exact location of Bethphage is unknown, but it was probably somewhere on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, roughly east of Gethsemane. I believe that another, more tortuous road, probably came around the south slope of the Mount of Offense, at the southeast corner of the map (not shown), and divided, with a branch going up the Kidron Valley to connect with the other road, and other branches leading to the southern gates to the city. If Jesus came in past Gethsemane, He would have most likely entered through the gate north of the Temple mount and passed the Pool of Bethesda and the Antonia Fortress. City streets are not shown on this map, so He would have had multiple choices once in the city. When He entered the Temple, He could have gone through the Sheep Gate on the north side or used the more traditional route of the Double Gate on the south side of the Mount.

First Century roads and gates around Jerusalem. I don’t know the source of this map, but I have little confidence in the accuracy of the roads on any similar map that I have. However, other features on this map correspond well with my understanding of the city at that time.

Whichever road He took from Bethany to Jerusalem, I think He was expected by the populace, and the crowd was alerted and waiting for Him on the west slope of the Olivet chain of hills.

Many prophecy enthusiasts point to the sealed Golden Gate as proof that Jesus entered the city by that route:

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut.
And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it.
—Ezekiel 44:1–2 ESV

But this prophesy refers to the eastern gate of Ezekiel’s Temple, described in Ezek 40 and following. That Temple has not been built yet and will not be built until the Millennium. More to the point, that prophecy does not point to Jesus (see below). Also, the Shushan Gate was destroyed or at least damaged in 586 BC, and the Golden Gate not built on top of it until hundreds of years later. Once built, it was later sealed, then opened, then sealed permanently, but not until 1541 BC!

Is it true that this is the “Eastern Gate” through which the Divine Presence left the Temple, as prophesied in Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11?

Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.
And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
—Ezekiel 10:18–19 ESV

Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.
—Ezekiel 11:22–23 ESV

God is omnipresent, both in space and in time. As our infinite, Almighty God, He can’t be contained in a tent or a building. But because He chose to deal with humanity, as represented by the primitive Israelites, He picked a form in which to appear to them. In the desert, it was “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” In the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, His “Divine Presence” was in the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat of the Ark.

Chapters 8 through 11 of Ezekiel record a vision that came to him while he was sitting in his house with “the leaders of Judah”. In the vision, he was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem and shown men in leadership positions performing “disgusting” idolatrous religious rites in the Temple precincts. God then ordered a scribe to pass through the city and put a seal on the foreheads of innocents, while six other presumably angelic beings followed him and executed anyone not so sealed. The six beings were then told to set fire to the city. After the return of the scribe, God’s Sh’kinah Presence left the Temple, rose above its threshold, paused for a bit over the “east gate of the Lord’s house” (this could be the gate of an interior courtyard, or it could be the Shushan Gate), and then “stood” over the mountain on the east side of the city (no doubt the Mount of Olives).

It doesn’t matter what gate, or what mountain, because it was a vision. It was not real, and the Divine Presence left by air, not through any gate. Yet it was prophecy of something that was real, which came very soon thereafter. God withdrew His protection from the city and the Temple, and both were sacked and burned by Nebuchadrezzar’s army.

Is it true that Jesus will one day enter the Temple through this same Eastern Gate, per Ezekiel chapters 43 and 44?

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east.
And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.
And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face.
As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east,
the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
—Ezekiel 43:1–5 ESV

Beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel has been once again taken to Jerusalem in a vision, but this was to show him events far in the future, at the start of the Millennial Reign. The vision shows him a new Temple, to be built presumably at the start of the Reign. In chapter 43, suddenly God’s Glory returns to the Temple, but this time through the gate facing east, not above it. The assumption that many people make is that “God’s Glory” here refers to Jesus. That is possible, but the parallels between this and the earlier vision indicate it is God’s Sh’kinah returning. The Father, not the son.

The sequence in chapter 43 is as follows: God’s Glory returns, through the “gate facing east.” God goes into the Temple itself and fills it with His Glory. Ezekiel is standing outside the Temple with the angel who has been showing him around. God calls out from inside, saying that He will now dwell with His people forever, and never again will they defile His house.

So, if it wasn’t Messiah entering through the eastern gate, was Jesus “the prince“, who is mentioned several times in the prophecy. Clearly it is not! The prince, whoever he is and whatever his function, has sins to atone for, and evidently, he has children.

We know from other prophecies that Jesus will reign from Zion. But nowhere does scripture seem to say he entered through the eastern gate. And incidentally, there does not seem to be a throne room in Ezekiel’s Temple.

God with the Wind

Recall that in 1Kings 19, the Prophet Elijah has fled from the irate Queen Jezebel and is hiding in a cave near Mt. Horeb (Sinai). He is moaning about his fate, and God drops in to confront him:

And he [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
—1 Kings 19:11–12 ESV

Two interpretive issues stand out here for me. The first is God’s demonstration for Elijah’s benefit of His power to control events, including even the forces of nature. That will be the subject of most of this post.

The second is an interesting side issue: how does God normally communicate with humans? Over the years I have heard many pastors and teachers refer to the inward prodding and conviction of the Holy Spirit as “God’s still, small voice.” That is a distortion of theology going back, I think, to the early church fathers. The ancient Jewish Rabbis taught that God most often spoke to His people in post-prophetic (but pre-Scriptural) times audibly but quietly, in a low, soothing whisper. This has been termed, in Aramaic, the bat kol, or “daughter voice”, and you can read one description of that here.

Some background before I proceed…

Book cover.

Some time back I read a book titled Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science, by Carl Drews. Drews is, like me, a self-taught amateur theologian with a technological background. He is also, again like me, passionately interested in the Egyptian sojourn, the Red Sea Crossing, the years of wandering, and the conquest of Canaan. The main difference between us is that I am a Conservative Evangelical who believes in the Divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, while Drews takes a “Higher Critical” approach to Scripture.

The central reason for Drews’ book is to provide an engineering analysis of the following verse in order to discover the most likely site of the Red Sea (Sea of Suf) crossing:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
—Exodus 14:21 ESV

Drews is an expert on mathematical modeling, i.e., using computers to simulate real-world conditions. For example, meteorologists use mathematical models to provide fairly accurate weather forecasts and to predict storm movements. Astrophysicists use them to study how stars and galaxies form and interact. In my own field of petroleum engineering, I have used (and even designed) them to predict reservoir responses, such as oil and gas flow in rocks and pipelines, and depletion of reservoir pressure.

Drews used computer modeling to study “wind setdown” at various supposed locations of the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea. Setdown is a form of storm surge. Where high winds blow across an expanse of open water, shear forces can move the surface waters, piling them up on beaches and exposing shallow beds that are normally flooded. Drews proved, conclusively I think (but see below), that wind blowing across any body of water in the Egypt/Sinai/Arabia area, with one exception, would have to blow so hard to achieve the necessary setdown effect that no human could survive the crossing. Not the currently favored Bitter Lakes area on the present-day Suez Canal; not the current fad choices, at Nuweiba Beach in the Gulf of Aqaba or the Timor Straits area at the southwest extremity of Aqaba; and not the traditional (my own preferred) area in the northern Gulf of Suez, south of Suez City.

The one exception found by Drews is the shallow Lake of Tanis in the Nile Delta. He states that a strong easterly wind has been historically known to drive the water off the shallows from time to time, and that at those times the lake can be traversed by foot. His premise is that the Exodus miracle is in the timing, not in the actual moving of the water.

But consider that the crossing of the Red Sea, wherever that may have occurred, was the definitive, miraculous demonstration of God’s awesome power, whereby He showed His people, for all time to come, that He is worthy of all praise, glory and undying worship!

We know that God transcends time and place. He sees everything, everywhere and everywhen! So, Drews is asking us to see God checking His Weather Channel listing for the next hundred years or so, finding a convenient windstorm predicted for the time period, and deciding, “Yeah that would be a good time to send Moses to get my folks out of Dodge.”

I don’t buy it! What God came up with was something way, way more spectacular!

So, here’s where I’m going with this…

If you have heard many sermons on the Ten Plagues of Egypt, then you have probably heard that each plague was a challenge to one or more of Egypt’s pagan gods. In each case, the True God bested the pagan deity at his or her own specialty. Time and time again throughout Scripture, you see God delivering judgement, warnings or promises through or while accompanied by natural forces. This is partly a demonstration of His awesome power, and partly a polemic against the pagan deities that His people tended to fear or follow. Sometimes the accompaniment is a small thing, like a bush that burned without being consumed, or a gourd that withered and died in a hot wind. Sometimes much more, like fire and smoke over Mt. Sinai.

Read again the passage I quoted to start this post. Elijah was waiting to hear from God. When he felt a mighty wind, he thought it was the arrival of God. When he felt an earthquake, he thought, “Surely this is God…”. When he saw a fire, he probably remembered that it was right there on Mt. Sinai where God had appeared to the Israelites in fire and smoke. Surely God brought all of those things along to remind Elijah what He could do, but in this case, Elijah needed also to hear a tender voice.

Egyptian God of Wind and Air, Amun. ©Richard Maschmeyer—Design Pics/Getty Images

I’m going to concentrate the rest of this discussion on the wind, because there is a particular idea that I have been exploring. Pagan wind deities tended to be particularly important in the ancient world because wind is almost always with us, and some of the most powerful natural phenomena are related to wind. In particular, this was true in Egypt, and therefore front and center in Israelite memory and lore. By the time of Moses, Egyptian mythology had merged the Sun God, Ra, with the God of Wind and Air, Amun, to produce the chief deity of that age, Amun-Ra.

Hebrew is a language that is rich in homonyms, or words with multiple meanings. The word רוּחַ, or ruach, is one of these. Depending on the context, ruach can mean “breath”, “spirit”, or “wind”. Sometimes there are specific clues in the context, like in Gen 1:2, where it appears as “the Spirit (Ruach) of God”, evidently referring to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is not as clear to me as it apparently was to the Bible translators. Very often, God’s miraculous works are accompanied by ruach. In some of those cases I have begun to wonder, “Is this interpretation cast in stone, or was it an assumption that has become ingrained as an unquestioned tradition?” Is it Spirit, is it literally wind, or is it perhaps both? I think that, perhaps, the idea of “both” has been underappreciated!

Take, for example, the following:

The festival of Shavu‘ot (Pentecost) arrived, and the believers all gathered together in one place.
Suddenly there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each one of them.
—Acts 2:1–3 CJB (emphasis added)

Here we see a great spiritual miracle, the imparting of the indwelling Holy Spirit, accompanied by two physical phenomena: the sound of wind in the sky above them, probably indicating that wind was in fact blowing; and “tongues of fire” over the individual recipients.

What about “the strong east wind” that we observed in Ex 14:21? The verb in the phrase translated as “drove the sea back” (ESV, NIV, et al) or “caused the sea to go back” (CJB, KJV, et al) has the Hebrew root הָלַךְ (halakh, to walk, or go). It is described by Strong’s as having, “a great variety of applications, literal and figurative”. The specific form of the verb appearing here, וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ, is syntactically a Hiphil, which I’m told makes the passage read more like “caused the sea to go [back]”. What is clear to me is that it was God who moved the waters. I don’t believe that you can say definitively from the Text whether the wind was His agency or was simply an accompanying phenomenon as seen elsewhere in Scripture. Since I am theologically convinced that the event required more than a minor “miracle of timing”, then I believe it is fair to say that Drews’ research proves scientifically that wind could not have been the agency. God miraculously parted the waters, while announcing His presence with a strong but less than lethal wind. For me, that’s a satisfying answer that makes any of the candidate crossing sites tenable!

Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing.
—Hosea 13:15 ESV

Is there any significance to the easterly wind direction? Absolutely! The prevailing wind direction in the northern temperate regions is westerly. In the Eastern Mediterranean region around Anatolia, the Lavant and Egypt, these winds bring ashore relatively cool, moist sea air. But during certain seasons there is sometimes a dry, hot wind blowing out of the deserts to the east and southeast, raising temperatures and withering crops. This is the beruakh qadim (“east wind”), or sometimes for brevity, just the qadim (“easterlies”), of Scripture. A more modern term for these winds is the Hebrew, sharav, or in Arabic hamsin winds. If the rain is God’s blessing on the Land, then the east winds are surely His curse. It is easy to see why the east wind appears over and over in Scripture, especially in prophecy, to symbolize and accompany God’s judgement.

Passages where wind accompanies miracles. “Whirlwind” includes dust devils through tornadoes and typhoons. ©Ron Thompson 2022

Many creationists believe that Earth’s present topology is mostly the result of upheavals caused by the Flood itself. At the time represented by this verse (after the flood itself, when things had calmed down), one would thus expect that the peak of Mt. Ararat was close to its current height of over 16,000 feet above sea level. Wind alone could not have dropped the water level over 3 miles! Only the power of God could have caused the flood, and only the power of God could have ended it! My conclusion is that either the wind was there as God’s signature, or ruach should have been translated as “Spirit” here, as it was in the similar scenario of Gen 1:2.

God remembered Noach, every living thing and all the livestock with him in the ark; so God caused a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the water began to go down … It was after 150 days that the water went down.
—Genesis 8:1–3 CJB

I opened with Elijah in a cave, expecting God to appear to him in wind, an earthquake, or fire. I’ll close with a parallel text, with another prophet looking to the end times.

But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff. And in an instant, suddenly,
you will be visited by the LORD of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.
And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel [possibly meaning “altar hearth”, but referring here to Zion], all that fight against her and her stronghold and distress her, shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.
—Isaiah 29:5–7 ESV (emphasis added)

A Theology of Baptism

Baptists, unlike many other denominations, believe in baptism by immersion rather than by “sprinkling” or “pouring.” Three reasons that I know of are commonly cited:

  • The Greek word baptizo literally means to “immerse” or “submerge.”
  • The symbology of baptism as generally recognized is burial and resurrection, which is not adequately pictured by sprinkling or pouring.
  • The oldest known paintings of baptisms seem to depict immersions.

For me, personally, I must go by what I know from many years of studying the rich Jewish background of Christianity. If Scripture isn’t explicit about how to do something it commands us to do, then that is usually because when the Scripture was written, there was no ambiguity. The church started out 100% Jewish, and in fact “The Way”, as we were often called in the 1st Century, was regarded within and without as a Jewish sect. Another common name was “The Sect of the Nazarene”. Ritual purification by total immersion in “living waters” (a natural stream or one of thousands of constructed Jewish mikvot, or baptisteries), was required as a personal response to sin, and to prepare for almost any ritual event. I believe that Christian baptism following salvation and prior to admission to membership in a local assembly mirrors the Jewish practice of requiring a person to be ritually submerged prior to recognition of his or her conversion to Judaism.

Several years ago, one of my granddaughters was dating a boy who was a member of a Reformed congregation. She wanted to attend catechism classes with him. I agreed, with the stipulation that I would read a copy of the text for myself and review it with her. On at least two occasions I had lunch with the pastor of that church. He was teaching the classes, and we had some very friendly, but of course inconclusive, conversations about the doctrine he was teaching.

The text was Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine. Here are my responses to specific statements made in the chapter on Christian Baptism:

  1. Berkhof said, “We maintain that the mode is quite immaterial, as long as the fundamental idea of purification finds expression in the rite…It is perfectly evident from several passages that baptism symbolizes spiritual cleansing or purification” as opposed to death, burial and resurrection. We’ll start this list with a point of agreement. Berkhof lists a number of Scriptural references, but I will stick with just one of those here:

    1Pet 3:20-21. (CJB) [20] to those who were disobedient long ago, in the days of Noach, when God waited patiently during the building of the ark, in which a few people—to be specific, eight—were delivered by means of water. [21] This also prefigures what delivers us now, the water of immersion, which is not the removal of dirt from the body, but one’s pledge to keep a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah.

    The concept that Christian baptism represents Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection came into use early, and was supported by Paul, himself in Col 2:12, but that was not the original intent of the rite.
  2. “Jesus did not prescribe a certain mode of baptism, and the Bible never stresses any particular mode.” That is true precisely because it was not a new concept that needed to be explained. Christian baptism is patterned on the Jewish rites for ritual purification of new converts. The original writers of the Bible and their audiences, both in Israel and the Diaspora, were all intimately familiar with the Jewish purification rites, and there could have been no ambiguity on the forms required.
  3. “The word employed by [Greek translations of Jesus’ words] does not necessarily mean ‘to immerse,’ but may also mean ‘to purify by washing’.” To purify by washing is one application of the term. So is the process of dying a cloth. But both practically and linguistically, the method of doing either was by dipping something completely. Strong defines the root, bapto, as a verb meaning “to overwhelm, i.e., cover wholly with a fluid”, “to moisten” or “to dip”, and baptizo as “to make overwhelmed, or fully wet.” Thayer adds, “submerge” and “immerge” (immerse) and Vine illustrates all of these meanings. Linguistically, it is possible to derive a translation that includes something less than total submergence, but to do so in this instance ignores the cultural context under which the word was written and how it would have been understood by the two imminent Jewish theologians, Jesus and Paul.
  4. “From earliest times it was customary to baptize by sprinkling and pouring as well as by immersion. Purification was frequently, if not generally, effected by sprinkling during Old Testament times” (emphasis added). This is a true statement about ritual cleansing, but inapplicable to the subject of Christian baptism or the Jewish customs at its root. Berkhof is referring here to the purification of objects, and rituals like the washing of hands. There were many different types of purification rite specified in the Old Testament. Each type of purification had its own specified mode. Berkhof gives numerous scriptural examples, but in each case, the mode demonstrated was as commanded by God for the specific situation. Purification for the purpose of human conversion and for many types of personal defilement required complete submersion, down to the last hair on the head. In particular, purification by complete submersion was required for conversion to Judaism, so I’m very sure that for “conversion” to Christianity, that is what they, too, did.
  5. “The baptism with the Spirit certainly did not take place by immersion…” That’s a weak argument for the question of water baptism, and I don’t even think it’s true for spiritual! I’m very sure that Holy Spirit baptism requires metaphorically complete immersion in the Holy Spirit. If sprinkling with “tongues of fire” on the head (“sprinkling of the Holy Spirit”?) is what Berkhof had in mind, then where is my tongue of fire? I think I really have been “immersed” in the Spirit!
  6. “…nor did other baptisms mentioned in Scripture.” He gave three examples here that I think are instructive:

    (a) Lk 11:37-38, (CJB) [37] As Yeshua* spoke, a Parush* [Pharisee] asked him to eat dinner with him; so he went in and took his place at the table; [38] and the Parush* was surprised that he didn’t begin by doing n’tilat yadayim [ritual handwashing] before the meal.

    (b) Lk 12:49-51, (CJB) [49] “I have come to set fire to the earth! And how I wish it were already kindled! [50] I have an immersion to undergo—how pressured I feel till it’s over! [51] Do you think that I have come to bring peace in the Land? Not peace, I tell you, but division! Jesus is speaking here of His coming ordeal, His crucifixion and the ultimate division that that will cause in the final judgement. His “baptism of fire”, so to speak.

    And (c) 1Cor 10:1-2 (CJB) [1] For, brothers, I don’t want you to miss the significance of what happened to our fathers. All of them were guided by the pillar of cloud, and they all passed through the sea, [2] and in connection with the cloud and with the sea they all immersed themselves into Moshe* [Moses]. Jesus is speaking metaphorically about the Reed Sea crossing by the Israelites. Of course, they, unlike the Egyptians behind them, were not literally immersed.
  7. “Neither does it seem that this mode was followed in the cases mentioned in Acts.” Berkhof here provides several references: Saul’s immersion after his road to Damascus encounter; the Gentile conversions at the house of Cornelius; and the Philippian jailer and his family. Nowhere do these verses mention the mode followed. They just say, in effect, “they were baptized.” I think that Berkhof is here assuming that there simply was no place handy for a complete immersion. He’s wrong. Every synagogue in every town with 10 or more male Jews had its own mikvah. Where there was no mikvah, there was a river or stream that could be used as it was or dredged or dammed to form a deep enough pool.


    A Jewish mikvah at Qumran, ©2008, Ron Thompson
  8. “Spiritual renewal is sometimes said to have been effected by sprinkling.” Where sprinkling is mentioned in the Old Testament, it is usually blood or oil, sprinkled in specific places for specific reasons. Water is sprinkled, literally, in only two contexts, where the vast amounts of water that would be required for full immersion were impractical: (a) The initial consecration of the Levites—all of them—at the “commissioning” of the tabernacle. And (b) at red heifer ceremonies, when many objects and people were to be cleansed more or less simultaneously. The one Old Testament example given by Berkhof was

    Ez 36:24-26 (CJB)
    [24] For I will take you from among the nations,
    gather you from all the countries,
    and return you to your own soil.
    [25] Then I will sprinkle clean water on you,
    and you will be clean;
    I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness
    and from all your idols.
    [26] I will give you a new heart
    and put a new spirit inside you;
    I will take the stony heart out of your flesh
    and give you a heart of flesh.


    This was, of course, poetic language referring to the New Covenant and to the Olam HaBa (the end-time world to come), and not at all meant to be taken literally. God was speaking, through Ezekiel, about what He will do, not to an individual, but to the entire Nation of Israel. If it was meant to be taken literally, God is also promising to rip out their old hearts and spirits and replace them with new!

    Berkhof also inserts a New Testament example here:

    Heb 10:22 (CJB)
    [22] Therefore, let us approach the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in the full assurance that comes from [faith]—with our hearts sprinkled clean from a bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.


    In this event, hearts are metaphorically sprinkled (since you can’t do that literally, let alone completely immerse it), but bodies are literally immersed.

Note the important point that salvation was never a result of ritual. Even in Temple days, Jewish salvation was by God’s grace, as a result of the individual’s faith in God. All ritual was an obedient response by a believing heart. Inevitably, many Church customs have evolved over the millennia. God’s grace will not condemn a “sprinkler”, but I prefer to do it right.

Ships, Boats, Floats and Arks

I know, this is far from the most important theological question most of us will face in our lives, but I’ll bet that most of us are at least a little bit interested. What Exactly is an “ark”? Answers in Genesis (AiG), parent ministry of the Ark Encounter theme park, who I frequently agree with and frequently disagree with, says, “Noah’s Ark was a ship; therefore, it likely had features that ships would commonly have.”

My purpose here is not to question their motives or their overall theological purity, but rather to point out where my opinions and theirs differ on some textual interpretations and scientific principles.

Artist’s conception: Noah’s Ark, somewhat as I envision it.

Linguistics

Nowhere does Scripture say the Ark was a ship! All that floats is not a ship. I did a search in several English translations to get a sense of the Biblical usage, concentrating mostly on KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV and CJB. I found that the Hebrew “Oniy or the related “Oniyah” is translated as “ship(s)”, “boat(s)”, “sailing vessel(s)”, or “watercraft” in the Old Testament. The word can also refer to a fleet (of ships), a Navy, or seamen. Another Hebrew term, Tsiy is translated variously as “ships“, “boats” or “vessels (of papyrus reeds)”.

There are three contexts in which the term “ark” occurs in English translations of the OT. When referring to Noah’s Ark and the basket that Moses was placed in to escape Pharaoh’s attack on Israelite children, the Hebrew is “tebah“, which literally means “a box or chest“. When referring to the Ark of the Covenant, the Hebrew is, “aron“, meaning “a box, chest or coffin“. What is the difference in meaning between these words? AiG suggests that tebah is related to the Egyptian word for “coffin”, and comments that being sealed in the Ark would be like being sealed in a coffin. Their post that I am here referring to1 says nothing more about aron.

Based on my own survey of Jewish sources, I believe that tebah refers to containers for the “common“, while aron refers to boxes, chests, and cabinets dedicated to sacred objects. Noah had a sacred purpose, but he was not personally sanctified, as demonstrated after the Great Flood, in Gen 9:20-27. Moses was unable to enter the Promised Land because of his own sin.

On the other hand,

  • The Ark of the Testimony (Aron HaEdut) was “home” to God’s Sh’kinah, and contained, for a time, a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. All of those are Jewish sacred objects.
  • For most of their history, the most sacred object associated with any Jewish synagogue has been their Torah scroll, and the second most sacred has been their Holy ark (aron HaKodesh) in which the scrolls are stored. These arks are cabinets, usually ornate, that stand against the synagogue wall most nearly facing Jerusalem and the Holy Mount.
  • When the Israelites left Egypt with Moses, they took with them, in an aron, the revered body of Joseph:

Genesis 50:26 (CJB)
[26] So Yosef* died at the age of 110, and they embalmed him and put him in a coffin [aron] in Egypt.

Ships, boats and barges, in all their myriads of varieties, generally have one thing in common: they are designed to transport people or other objects from one location to another, on or under the water. By “transport”, I mean to actively move it, using some form of energy, be it wind, machine, or muscle. The term “ships” generally refers to relatively large vessels designed to withstand the rigors of navigating the open sea or large rivers and lakes. The term “boats” can include “ships” as a subset, but more commonly it refers to relatively smaller watercraft. A “barge” is usually a box-like vessel designed to be pulled or pushed by a ship or boat.

By contrast, a vessel or platform, or even an air-filled vest, of any kind that is designed, not to navigate under any kind of propulsion, but simply to float on water and go wherever the force of nature takes it, is called—well—a “float“! Noah’s Ark was not a ship; it was a float. God said, “Build this, get in it with a herd of critters, and let it float you to wherever I send it by means of the winds and waves at my command.” If it was a float and not a ship or boat, then it doesn’t need to have “had features that ships would commonly have.”

Wind and waves

The design on AiG’s Ark Encounter, in fact the basis of much of their flood theology, depends on assumption that The Great Flood would have included catastrophic winds, waves and consequent destruction.

However, I think the argument is faulty. I see nothing in scripture to indicate that wind factored into the Genesis Flood in any significant way, so neither wind nor wave would have been an issue. According to Gen 7:11, “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of the sky were opened.” I don’t believe that this event can be compared in any way to a modern storm. I have discussed a likely mechanism for the flood in Fountains of the Deep. In that post I suggest that the vast majority of the flood water was miraculously brought up from earth’s mantle transition layer, primarily through volcanic eruptions in the mid-oceanic ridges. This would have perhaps generated tsunamis on shore regions until they were inundated, but tsunamis cause very little disturbance in deep water. Widespread volcanism generates huge amounts of ash, as well as CO2 and water vapor that would spawn torrential rain but could quell pressure gradients and dampen the normal winds.

The only mention of wind in the Flood text is in Gen 8:1b,”God caused a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the water began to go down.” The Hebrew ruach can mean wind, breath, or any of a number of related English terms, but most often in the Bible, it means “spirit“, as in Gen 1:2b, “and the Spirit [Ruach] of God hovered over the surface of the water.” No amount of physical and literal wind could dry up that much water in the time allowed by Scripture; the waters of the deep were miraculously returned to their home in earth’s mantle through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). I suggest that “wind” is a mistranslation in Gen 8:1.

Architecture

As an ex Naval Officer, I put in a lot of both formal and informal time studying subjects related to my job. Not that I could ever build a ship from the keel up, but I do have training in naval architecture, both technical and historic. The small “n” in “naval” means both military and civilian watercraft.

AiG has tried to justify their design of a ship-like Ark at Ark Encounter, as opposed to a parallelepiped, box-like float of the same overall dimensions, by appealing to model studies in wave pools. I can tell you from personal experience that because of their inertial characteristics, a massive ship won’t perform anything like a small model in either wind or waves. Not even close.

I have been at sea on a minesweeper, a destroyer, a battleship, and, for long periods, an aircraft carrier. On all but the battleship, I have served on the “bridge” (a ship’s navigational control center) while under way, and experienced “heavy seas” (storm conditions). On the minesweeper and the carrier, I periodically “had the con“, meaning I had command over the vessels’ engines and rudders, as well as lookouts and other underway personnel. In Navy parlance, a minesweeper is a boat, and designed for operations in littoral, i.e., coastal, waters, though able to transit oceans if necessary. My other “rides” were smallish, large and very large ships, respectively.

My destroyer, the USS O’Brien, DD-725, was about 80% the size of the Ark, so it gives me a good basis for comparison. We definitely felt the waves, but when under power, it was easy to control our direction of advance. If we cut our speed to “all stop“, or “zero turns on the ship’s screw“, we would fairly quickly lose our forward motion, and eventually the weight of the ship would drag us around until we were parallel to the swells (that’s the proper term for deep-water waves). Once so “broached“, there is a tendency for any vessel to roll side to side. This isn’t comfortable, but sailors are used to it and prepared for it. Even in rough seas, very few ships will capsize from it, though, because buoyancy and inertia limit the magnitude of the roll. A box with the same dimensions as the ship would have less tendency to roll than a ship with a bowed hull, given proper weight distribution aboard the two.

Water wave physics

Elsewhere in the AiG documentation, they either state or imply that waves would have driven the Ark forward. But that could happen only in near-shore wave action where wind shear pushes surface water onto the shallows. In deep waters, waves are propagated in a horizontal direction, but the only water movement is near the surface where molecules simply bob up and down in tight oval movements. It is the bobbing action that moves along the surface, not the water itself. Rather than delve into the physics of water waves more deeply, I will simply present this diagram, with the movement of individual water molecules depicted in red:

Features of the AiG design

In several blog posts, AiG explains why, from a sea-worthiness perspective, they think that the Ark needed to be a ship-like vessel, rather than a box. They use this diagram to illustrate:

Noah’s Ark, per Anwers in Genesis™

“Noah could have added a fixed ‘sail’ on the upper bow of the Ark so the wind could turn the ship into the rough waves.” The idea here is that the raised bow fin would act like a weathervane, causing the Ark to pivot and turn end-on to the wind. But the description makes no sense from a mariner’s perspective. Swells propagate in the direction the wind is blowing; that is, a wind blowing towards the east would cause waves that also “move” toward the east. “Into the rough waves” therefore implies that the fin would turn the Ark in such a way that the wind would be blowing bow to stern, but if the fin worked at all, it would cause the bow to turn away from the oncoming waves.

Functionally, the object is to keep the Ark from broaching, or turning broadside to the wind and waves. Facing either bow or stern into the waves is very much preferable, but unlike a light model, I very seriously doubt that this fin design would be workable with a massive ship. It would take a very large force against the fin to overcome the angular momentum of the Ark and its contents. Also, enough wind to push on the fin would push even more on the windward hull of the ship, resisting any pivot. If there even were any significant wind.

“Noah could have added a fixed ‘rudder’ at the lower stern of the Ark to keep the ship turned into the rough waves.” This is another statement that makes no sense to me. A fixed rudder, more commonly known as a “skeg“, is an underwater fin or projection that can be used to stabilize the motion of a powered watercraft. There is no reason to suppose that Noah, or God, provided the Ark with a propulsion mechanism, so the most that a skeg would have accomplished was a slight reduction of rocking. It would have no effect at all on the orientation of the Ark with respect to waves, since ocean swells involve no sideways water motion (see above).

“A ship’s keel is a structure built along the bottom of the ship’s hull to support the main body of the ship. In some cases, the keel is extended downward to function as a stabilizer for the ship. Noah’s Ark, as described in Genesis 6, may have had a keel since it seems to have been an essential piece for the ship to survive the wind and waves.” If the Ark was a ship, then given its size, a keel might have been necessary to anchor ribs and strakes. If the Ark was a box, then no such structure would have been necessary, since structural stability would be adequate using only rails, stiles and cross-braces.

“Jesus Boat”, ©2008, Ron Thompson
“Jesus Boat”, ©2008, Ron Thompson

There is no evidence from literature or archaeological findings that keels ever existed before they were invented by the Vikings around the 8th Century AD. Early ships and boats, including those built by the Egyptians and the Phoenician “Sea People” were built by lashing or pegging planking to bent or shaped ribs that ran perpendicular to the length of the craft. The 2,000-year-old “Jesus Boat” on display at Kibbutz Ginosar, Israel, was modeled on Phoenician boats from earlier centuries.

Earlier structures related to keels did exist in ancient times. Egyptian boats, for instance, featured what is now called a “plank-keel.” This was not a true keel, but rather a wide strake (hull plank) at the very bottom of the hull where keels would later be located. The function was primarily to give the boat a stable base while beached. Another device that occurred frequently in ancient ships (and is still often used) is a “keelson“, which was a structural beam or cleat in the bilge area, but not extending outside the hull. It was used mainly to help support masts in sail-powered boats, but often did add strength to the hull. Neither of these features would function on an Ark.

“The box-like Ark is not entirely disqualified as a safe option, but sharp edges are more vulnerable to damage during launch and landing.” Among many avocations, I have been a cabinet maker during my lifetime, and I still have a completely furnished cabinet and general woodworking shop in my basement. My opinion is that square corners (“sharp edges”) are vulnerable to dings and dents but are sturdier and more puncture-proof than a rounded wooden hull.

“Blunt ends would also produce a rougher ride and allow the vessel to be more easily thrown around” Most ships and small boats have a “sharp” bow for “cutting through” the water, but a large percentage of them have a “blunt” stern, and many larger ships have “blunt” vertical sides, as well. How much a vessel is “thrown around” is more a function of its mass and how deep it sits in the water. And, of course, a flat bottom is much less prone to rolling than a ship’s hull.

“While many designs could work, the possibility shown here reflects the high stems which were a hallmark of ancient ships.” Though I couldn’t find more explanation of what precisely this statement means, I assume it is referencing raised prows and sterns on many ancient ships. In the case of Egyptian vessels, these were stylized papyrus umbels (flat-topped or rounded flower clusters). The Egyptians used the stem of papyrus plants to make sails, cloth, mats, cords, and paper, so these plants were appropriate decorations. Other civilizations decorated their ships in the same manner with religious totems.

“Noah was 500–600 years old and knew better than to make a simple box that would have had significant issues in a global Flood (e.g., forces on the sharp corners would be too destructive, it could capsize if it is not facing into the wind and waves, and so on).” If Noah had any training in shipbuilding or hydrodynamics, it isn’t mentioned in Scripture. God may have coached him or given him engineering drawings or advanced physics training, but this is also unmentioned.

The Transfiguration and “Jewish Law”

Several Sundays ago, my wife and I attended a church in our area that we hadn’t visited in many years. The sermon was delivered by a stand-in—a naïve young associate pastor. He preached on the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13. Being a Baptist, his main point was that salvation is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. That much was fine, of course, but at least half of his sermon was designed to show that the purpose of the Transfiguration was to demonstrate that Judaism is dead, not only in the soteriological sense, but in its entirety.

I want here to comment on four points he made that I regard as theologically ridiculous. I’ll spend quite a bit of my space on the first two, because they are common misconceptions in Christianity. The last two, I don’t believe to be commonly held interpretations, so I’ll do little more than mention them.

First Fallacy: he repeated a theory I have come across many times since I was a young man—that “Jewish Law” is composed of three categories of commandments: “Moral Law“, “Civil Law“, and “Ceremonial Law“. There are hints of this in Augustine of Hippo, but I think the idea was fleshed out mostly by Thomas Aquinas, so it became a Roman Catholic and Orthodox view. It was later bequeathed to Protestant Reformed theology by John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion; and many subsequent non-Reformed Protestant denominations and individual pastors have adopted the idea as well. The impetus for these teachings was probably an effort to justify claims that Christians are not bound by Civil and ceremonial Law, while at the same time holding that the Moral Law is somehow “still in effect”.

I categorically reject this idea! It is a Christian misinterpretation of Jewish concepts that are difficult to understand without a more than cursory acquaintance with Hebrew cultural nuances. For example, a proof text used relies on the differentiation between terms in Deuteronomy 6:1 and similar verses, which do indicate a threefold differentiation—that is, shades of meaning—within the 612 commandments listed in Scripture; however, these categorizations are not between the moral, the civil and the ceremonial, but rather between what we might term enacted laws, regulations, and court rulings:

Chapter 6 (CJB)
[6:1] “Now this is the mitzvah [commandment; law; ordnance; or precept], the choqim [statutes; enactments; or decrees] and mishpatim [rulings; judgements; sentences; or findings] which ADONAI your God ordered me to teach you for you to obey in the land you are crossing over to possess…

With very few exceptions, Jewish scholarship going back to Talmudic days does not differentiate categories of “Law” in the way this young pastor presented them. The sages did not and do not recognize these categories, only a unified whole of written Biblical Law, plus an entirely separate body of oral tradition.

What does the Bible actually say to us, as Christians? Well, first of all, it never told non-Jews to follow Jewish Law or observe Jewish customs! Torah was given to those under the Abrahamic Covenant in order to set a people, the Jews, apart from non-Covenant peoples. It is said that “we used to be under Law, but now we’re under Grace”, but “we”, the non-Jewish, were never under Law, and salvation has always been by God’s grace, through faith. Law-keeping, even the sacrifices, never saved a Jew from God’s judgement—those were, and in fact were recognized by the Jews as, acts of obedience, and contrition for sin.

So, why do we Christians keep some of these “Laws” but not others? Because we are moral, spirit-directed individuals, and the moral principles we follow are common sense, even to most non-religious folks—”Natural Law”, if you please.

The New Testament halachic (legal—see below) requirement for the Church was decided at the First Church Council, at Jerusalem, as recorded in

Acts 15:19-21 (ESV):
[19] Therefore my [James’] judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, [20] but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. [21] For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.

These four prohibitions are similar to, and encompass, the Noachide Laws—six commandments given to Adam in the Garden, plus a seventh added after the flood. The principles given address practices that are abominable to Jews and are regarded by the Rabbis as the minimum prohibitions necessary for Jewish fellowship with non-Jewish believers.

Second Fallacy: he repeated the interpretation that “The Law” was simply a picture of what Jesus would accomplish on the cross, and that by His crucifixion, He “fulfilled the Law”, and thus did away with it, i.e., “The Law”, having been “fulfilled” has “passed away”; but, just the Civil and Ceremonial portions, not the Moral Law, which is “still in effect, because God, after all, obviously still demands morality.” This, he bases on

Matthew 5:17 (ESV):
[17] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

“The Greek term translated “abolish” above is kataluo [to demolish, halt, destroy, dissolve, come to naught, overthrow, or throw down]. But isn’t that what the book of Hebrews says happened? No, what it says is that Jesus is an intrinsically better mediator than the High Priest and a better expiation than the sacrifices. Both of these, it says, are “passing away”, and in fact, that is exactly what happened in AD 70 when Titus destroyed the Temple. But Jewish Law is far more than just the high priesthood and the sacrifices.

So how does that differ from “fulfill” if Jesus replaced the whole system of Judaism by “fulfilling the Law”? But that is not what “fulfill” implies here, in Matthew 5:17! The Greek for that concept is pleroo [to satisfy, execute, finish/complete, verify, accomplish, fulfill, carry out to the full, fill up, fully preach, or perfect]. So evidently Jesus did not replace “The Law or the Prophets”, but rather explained and strengthened them.

Nomos vs. “the Law or the Prophets”: Throughout the New Testament, nomos is understood to be a translation of the Hebrew Torah, and most English translations then render nomos as “law”. Vines defines nomos as that which is “divided out”, “distributed”, or (primarily) “assigned”, which is a bit ambiguous. Strong’s generally defines the term based on its prior translations in Scripture, i.e., “the law of Moses”. but he does include “parceled out”, which is closer to Vine.

To understand it more correctly, let’s go right to “the horse’s mouth”: the Hebrew term “Torah“. English translations of this word in Scripture generally depend heavily on the translators’ Hellenized understanding of nomos, so once again, we get “law”. In a very narrow sense, legal principles can be included, but Jewish speakers and Jewish literature render the term as “teachings“; in other words, “principles” in the sense of imparted knowledge about God, His Creation, His Will, and anything else He wishes us to know. Legal tenets, whether Scriptural or traditional, would be distinguished as “halacha“, which translates literally as a “way of walking” (compare Paul’s discussions of our “Christian Walk”).

Torah, like many Hebrew words, can have many shades of meaning, which can only be distinguished by context and customary usage. Sometimes it refers to all of God’s teachings. Often it specifically means the chumash, or Five Books of Moses; often it includes all books of the Tanach (Old Testament), and Messianic Jews often include the Brit Hadasha (New Testament), as well. Indeed, Jesus Himself is the very embodiment of Torah (John 1:1).

Much of the confusion here arises because a large portion of Christianity has arrogantly decided that Judaism failed God, so God took back his Covenant promises to Israel and conferred them on the Church instead; therefore, if the Old Testament has any meaning to us in the Church, it is only metaphorical, or symbolic. For example, to Reformed Christianity, God’s commandment to circumcise male children becomes a commandment to baptize infants!

Here is what Jesus said would result from any attempt to “throw out the Law”:

Matthew 5:18-19 (CJB)
[18] Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud [jot, yodh] or a stroke [serif, tittle] will pass from the Torah—not until everything that must happen has happened. [19] So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 To me, that’s pretty clear!

 Third Fallacy: Jesus’ last words, “It is finished” referred to the “Ceremonial Law”. Some Dispensationalists believe that these words were spoken by Jesus to pronounce a renunciation of the Mosaic Covenant and the end of the so-called “Dispensation of Law”. What Jesus “finished” (brought to its fullness, not ended!) was His ministry on earth, laying the soteriological foundation for the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God.

Fourth Fallacy: bizarrely, he stated that when the three apostles looked back up and saw Jesus alone, He had literally “absorbed” Moses and Elijah, to show that the OT system of Judaism was no more.

Matthew 17:8 (CJB)
[8] So they opened their eyes, looked up and saw only Yeshua by himself.

No. They simply left!

Paul to Colossae, on Syncretism

In his letter to the Colossian Assembly, Paul addressed three types of “Gnostic” heresy that were evidently being taught there:

  1. Greek Dualism, which cast doubts on Jesus because of claims that he was fully human as well as divine. Plato, whose philosophy was revered in much of the Greek world, held that the spiritual realm was “good”, but anything physical, including any human, was intrinsically evil.
  2. Pagan Pantheism, which held that all physical objects were inhabited by so-called “elemental sprits” that were either good or evil.
  3. Judaistic practices being urged on non-Jews in the Church.

It is the last issue, above, that I wish to address here. I believe that it included two main sub-issues:

  • Either requiring or suggesting conversion to Judaism was viewed by some as a precursor to possession of the “secret things” of Christianity.
  • Urging participation in celebrations of Jewish tradition for possession of that Gnostic “knowledge”.

The first of these sub-issues was dealt with primarily in

Colossians 2:11-14 (ESV)
[11] In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, [12]  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. [13]  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Prior to AD 70, conversion to Judaism was a threefold process requiring circumcision; ritual cleansing (immersion, i.e., baptism, in either open water or in one of the thousands of mikvot, or baptisteries, in Israel and the Diaspora); and an atoning sacrifice in the Temple.

In verse 11, above, Paul explains that circumcision is not required of non-Jewish believers, because our circumcision is a spiritual “circumcision of the heart“, a “stripping away [of the] old nature’s control over the body” (CJB translation).

In verse 12, he identifies baptism as a symbolic death, burial and resurrection along with Messiah.

And in verse 14, he states that our sin-debt is cancelled by the cross. Without digging too deeply into Old and New Testament theology, Jesus’ death cancelled all our sins, past present and future, whereas the Old Testament sin offerings were merely a symbolic atonement, or “covering over“, for specific infractions over specific time frames.

Regarding the Jewish Traditions, refer to

Colossians 2:16-17 (CJB)
[16] So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking, or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh-Hodesh or Shabbat. [17] These are a shadow of things that are coming, but the body is of the Messiah.

Rosh-Hodesh (“head of the month”) was the lunar new moon celebration held each month to recognize the coming civil, agricultural and religious cycle. Shabbat, of course, is the Jewish “day of rest”, either the weekly Sabbath or a Sabbath associated with another Jewish festival.

Note that Paul is not condemning these traditional celebrations, which have tremendous prophetic and memorial significance to Christians and Jews alike; rather, he is condemning those who shame others in the church who choose to either celebrate them or to not celebrate them.

God Is Not Our “Daddy”!

I’m sorry, but God is not our “daddy”! To call the Almighty God “Daddy” is misguided at best, and disrespectful (in Biblical terms, profane!) at worst!
I have never believed the claim that “Abba” is a term of childish endearment reserved for New Testament Christians. Going back to prophetic times or farther, it has been common for orthodox Jews of all ages, to refer to their parents as Abba and Eema. It is simply a respectful term for “father”, or the more Middle-Eastern form, “my father.”
The word, Abba, is found three times in the ESV New Testament:
Mark 14:36 (ESV)
[36] And he [Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane] said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Romans 8:15 (ESV)
[15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Galatians 4:6 (ESV)
[6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
So, what is the significance of this twofold representation, if both words are equivalent? Abba was originally an Aramaic term, which was “borrowed” by Hebrew. It is the respectful way the children in Israel would have addressed their fathers. I believe that the Greek language of the 1st century Scriptures was simply repeating it the way it was spoken by Jews, and then translating it into Greek for those not understanding it.
There are a number of good treatments of this subject on the Internet. This link is one that goes into the origin of the false “daddy” idea:
By the way, an OT example of the same term is found in
Isaiah 8:4 (ESV)
[4] for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”,
which is presented in the Complete Jewish Bible as
Isaiah 8:4 (CJB)
[4] because before the child knows how to cry, ‘Abba*!’ and ‘Eema*!’, the riches of Dammesek* and the spoil of Shomron* will be carried off and given to the king of Ashur*.”

Paul, on Head Coverings

Something I said in Sunday School this morning needs clarification. I was discussing the Jewish tradition that men’s heads must be uncovered in synagogue and women’s covered, as contrasted with the opposite traditions among Christians. I speculated that the Christian custom might be a polemic against Judaism. My friend, David then rightly pointed out I Cor 11:4-5, which seems to command the Christian custom. When David and I discussed it after class, I mentioned that I had just read a commentary claiming that Paul was referring to hair but hearing his response I began leaning towards the theory that the Jewish view, since it does not seem to be according to a scriptural command, might instead be a polemic against Christianity. Much of present Jewish tradition comes via the Talmudic Era, roughly 200 – 400 AD.
Having now reviewed the topic in more detail at home, in its scriptural and historical context, I am now satisfied that neither hats, nor wigs, nor hair is intended here, but rather Middle Eastern veils! The Greek for “cover” in these verses is katakalupto, which comes from roots meaning to “cover wholly”, “down and over” the head. Many of you know that my favorite Bible translation is the Complete Jewish Bible, because its translator, David Stern, is a Messianic Jew who is very well versed in ancient Hebrew customs and tradition. Here is the passage in that version:
1 Corinthians 11:3-10 (CJB)
[3] But I want you to understand that the head of every man is the Messiah, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of the Messiah is God. [4] Every man who prays or prophesies wearing something down over his head brings shame to his head, [5] but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame to her head—there is no difference between her and a woman who has had her head shaved. [6] For if a woman is not veiled, let her also have her hair cut short; but if it is shameful for a woman to wear her hair cut short or to have her head shaved, then let her be veiled. [7] For a man indeed should not have his head veiled, because he is the image and glory of God, and the woman is the glory of man. [8] For man was not made from woman, but woman from man; [9] and indeed man was not created for the sake of the woman but woman for the sake of the man. [10] The reason a woman should show by veiling her head that she is under authority has to do with the angels.
So, what these verses are discussing seems to be, not so much choice of apparel or grooming, as roles within the church or synagogue (see I Cor 14:33-35; I Tim 2:9-15). Men are to lead, and women to defer to their husbands.
Is there, then, an implied Biblical Commandment regarding either head coverings, veils, or hair? I think that Paul is here endorsing the cultural norms of the day, at Corinth. His following words indicate that the above discussion does not carry the force of Edict:
1 Corinthians 11:13-16 (CJB)
[13] Decide for yourselves: is it appropriate for a woman to pray to God when she is unveiled? [14] Doesn’t the nature of things itself {Greek phusis, or natural growth} teach you that a man who wears his hair long degrades himself? [15] But a woman who wears her hair long enhances her appearance, because her hair has been given to her as a covering. [16] However, if anyone wants to argue about it, the fact remains that we have no such custom, nor do the Messianic communities {Greek ekklesia, local assemblies: synagogues/churches} of God.

Fountains of the Deep

Edited 11/8/2022

The Deep

In ancient times, the peoples of the Middle East held a deep-seated, superstitious awe for the oceans and other large bodies of water. To them, the deep-water basins were abyssal, bottomless pits, full of monsters and evil spirits or demons. The continents floated on the ocean waters, which were also the common source of springs and subterranean rivers, so these source waters, too, were infested with evil spirits. Take, for example, the river Banias, which today flows from between rock strata down-slope from the famous cave at Caesarea Philippi. In Jesus’ day, the river flowed from the mouth of the cave. The pagans of Decapolis named the cave “The Gates of Hell” and surrounded its exterior with shrines to the god Pan.

The same ancient peoples who feared the deep waters also recognized that they were the source of life, providing fresh drinking water for humans and animals alike, water for the fields, and an abundance of fish, the staple of life for many civilizations.

The Hebrew word most often used in the Bible to refer to this interconnected reservoir of water, either in whole or in part, is tehom, usually translated as “the deep.” Exactly what elements are included in any particular reference to tehom must be inferred from the context or modifiers. In Gen 1:2, most would agree that it referred to an all-encompassing ocean, prior to the formation of dry land surfaces. In Gen 49:25, Jacob is giving his deathbed blessing to Joseph, speaking of “the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep [tehom] that lieth under…” (KJV) I believe that he is, here and in the parallel passage, Deut 33:13, referring to the entire, composite water system lying beneath the canopy of “heaven above.” In Job 28:14, in his discourse on Wisdom, Job defines his own usage of the term by means of the poetic doublet, “The deep says, ‘It isn’t in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It isn’t with me.’” (CJB) In Isaiah 63:13, tehom refers to the Red (or Reed) Sea, opened up for Moses and the Israelites.

The Fountains

Gen 7:11“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” (KJV)

Gen 8:2“The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained;” (KJV)

What, then, are “the fountains of the deep”, or ma’yenot tehom, as mentioned in the Flood story? Ma’yenow (singular) denotes a spring, fountain, or source. Can this be taken literally, like a spring in the desert, or is it poetically descriptive of the fact that water from “the deep” was gushing freely from some aperture or region? When considered in parallel with “the windows of heaven”, wa’rubot (chimneys or windows) ha-shamayim (the heavens, or elsewhere, “firmament”), my own opinion is that the “fountains” and “windows” must both be poetic terms, whereas the water and the flood were most certainly literal!

Identifying the Fountains of the Deep

Young Earth Creationists often take the view that “the fountains of the great deep” refers to continental springs, geysers, fissures, Artesian wells, and other surface openings that God miraculously ripped open and caused to spout abnormally great volumes of water from natural aquifers deep in the earth’s crust. This rending and subsequent flow, they say, caused cataclysmic changes in the topography, including newly up-thrust mountain ranges, massive erosion, and even the division of large supercontinents into the smaller continents we know today.

fountains_of_great_deep

A fairly traditional view.

Others take the view that God caused volcanoes to sprout across the continents and spew water and, presumably, lava (since that’s what volcanoes do).

I can’t resist mentioning still another view that I ran across proclaiming, presumably with a straight face, that the unprecedented heavy rain was associated with a drop in barometric pressure so severe that water under the earth’s crust for some unspecified reason “pushed up and out … to come to the surface”, evidently causing the crust to pop like a balloon! Incredible, since the normal barometric pressure at sea level is typically below 15 psi, which is pretty much the same pressure that my own bare feet exert on earth’s crust when I stand on it!

fountainsofdeep1

An incredibly naive view.

My view is that the term “fountains of the deep” describes features of the ocean floor. Opening of these “fountains” may have caused some shifting of the tectonic plates and therefore some near-shore damage on the continents, but the main effect was a sudden simple rising of the sea level. I will discuss a possible (to me, probable) mechanism below, but first I would like to present some brief arguments against continental “fountains”:

  1. Scripture nowhere states that the flood caused catastrophic changes in Earth’s geology, and there is no valid scientific evidence that either the topography or the stratigraphy of the earth was greatly influenced by a single massive flood. The idea that the Genesis Flood accounts for the apparent old age of the earth is simply an assumption made in an effort to explain something that the Bible itself made no effort to explain. It is a defensive theology aimed at those scientists and others who deny scripture. Since it is in no way backed by scripture, it must meet the objections of science and of common observation, and it simply fails to do so. In a separate post, here, I presented a substantial list of geological phenomena that to my personal knowledge cannot possibly be explained by the Genesis Flood. I also presented my credentials for addressing the various issues discussed.
  2. Crustal aquifers exist, not in caverns, but in porous and permeable rock formations. While sometimes quite large, they are limited in their areal extent and thickness. Many thousands of deep oil and gas wells (including a number that I was involved in drilling and evaluating) and countless geophysical studies have shown no evidence of permeable rock formations in continental crust large enough to contain the enormous volumes of water that would be necessary to cover the highest mountains, even if they were much lower than they are today. And were they? Possibly a bit; the Himalayas, for example, are demonstrably rising even now as a result of plate tectonics and the ongoing collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate. But consider Mt. Ararat: after God closed the windows of heaven and stopped up the fountains of the deep, Ararat, at Over 16,000 feet above the normal sea level, was still under the receding water!
  3. Sufficient quantities of sub-continental water would most certainly have had to come from deep within Earth’s mantle unless they were created by God, on the spot (which I acknowledge to be theologically possible, but not necessary). Any continental aperture of sufficient depth to reach these depths and sufficient width to handle the volume of water necessary would, I think, have to be fairly humongous. Why are there no traces of anything like this?
  4. Continental volcanoes might account for a large volume of deep-sourced water, but I don’t think there is evidence of enough continental volcanism to provide that much.
  5. Finally, I think that Gen 7:11 provides an important clue. This passage states that it was the “fountains of the Great Deep” (tehom rabaah) that God opened to start the rising flood. That terminology in Scripture normally refers only to the abyssal ocean basins, not to continental features.

Likely Mechanism of the Flood

There are two likely mechanisms, that I can see, that God might have used to bring that much water up from the deep, and then to store it again once He was done with it:

  1. First, he could have simply created it on the spot, flooded the earth with it, and then de-created it again when he was done with it.
  2. It seems to me, though, that His modus operandi as described in scripture is normally to wrap what He has already created in some sort of miracle when He wants to make a major power statement. I think that He “foreknew” what He was going to do and incorporated that plan into His original design.

Every school child since before my day has known that the earth has an upper “crust”, a central “mantle”, and a lower “core”. Geophysicists now believe that the mantle consists primarily of different forms, or “phases” of the mineral Olivine, which is a “magnesium iron silicate.” The simple Olivine of the upper mantle, under the heat and pressure of lower depths is converted to a phase called Perovskite in the lower mantle. Between the two regions is a transition zone consisting of Olivine phases called Wadsleyite and Ringwoodite. Both of these mineral phases can be very heavily hydrated and are now thought to contain as much as 3.5 times as much water as in all the earth’s oceans. Many young-earth creationists, as well as ancient-earth creationists like me, speculate that this is the primary source of the water that God used to flood the earth in Noah’s day.

mantle_water

Most people probably think of the deep regions of the earth as simply dead, stagnant, unmoving rock. In reality, the earth is a dynamic, “living” system from surface to center. We have all been taught about the “water cycle”, where ocean water evaporates, clouds form, rain falls on the continents, and streams and aquifers return the same water back to the oceans. There is also a water cycle involving the mantle transition zone: ocean water is dragged, in prodigious quantities, into the depths of the mantle by the “subduction” of Earth’s oceanic tectonic plates. This water charges the transition zone, and much later is returned to the ocean through the agency of deep-ocean “smokers” (hydrothermal vents) and volcanism along the Mid-Oceanic Ridges; in the Island-Arc and Continental-Arc volcanoes near subduction zones; and in “hot spot” volcanoes like the Hawaiian volcanos and the Yellowstone super-volcano.

It turns out, paradoxically, that water itself is what spawns volcanic activity, because the melting point of rock is drastically lowered in the presence of water. There is, in fact, an intriguing theory that there should be a sheet of molten rock at the upper surface of the transition zone. From my own knowledge of petrology and fluid flow in rock, that makes me think that conditions in such a region could be right, under certain circumstances (like a gentle push from the Hand of God!) for water-laden, low viscosity, basaltic magma to suddenly channel rapidly through this discontinuity into the Mid-Oceanic ridges, causing a subsequent rise in sea level that could be described poetically as the “fountains of the great deep” opening up. In fact, if this superheated and thus buoyant water were to bubble quickly to the ocean surfaces, could not one expect to see thick clouds of warm water vapor rising quickly into the stratosphere where they would rapidly cool and set off an inundation of torrential rain?

Regarding the return of the flood waters to the transition zone: in my view, the text implies a direct miracle.

Gen 8:1 – “God remembered Noach*, every living thing and all the livestock with him in the ark; so God caused a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the water began to go down.” (CJB)

The Hebrew ruach can mean “wind” in scripture, but it often is translated as “spirit”. In Genesis 1:2, the Ruach of God hovered over the surface of the water. In 8:1, God caused His Ruach to hover over the face of the water-covered earth! In both cases, the earth was covered with an unbroken expanse of water, and God sent His Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to deal with it!

Start of Series: Theory in Science and Theology

The Coming World War: Gog and Magog

Updated January 2022; original May 2015

There are two major events on God’s prophetic calendar which could occur at any time, now or years from now. One, of course, is the Rapture. There are no other prophetic events which have to occur before the Rapture. The same can be said for the other imminent event, the War of Gog and Magog, described in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. It is this war that I want to discuss here, because it seems to me that all of the pieces for it are in place.

Gog and Magog, which I will refer to hereafter as, simply, The War, may happen either before or after the Rapture, but must precede Antichrist’s treaty and the Tribulation period. Why? A number of compelling reasons are proposed by Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his book, The Footsteps of the Messiah: The Sequence of Pretribulational Events. I may reprise additional reasons in a future posting, but for now I will simply say that the prophesied seven years of cleanup after the war seems to preclude any other possibility.

There are numerous geopolitical events and conditions that I saw as lining up or lined up when I first wrote this post in 2015. Now, in late 2021, not much has changed to alter my views.

The Triggers

The War will be an invasion of Israel by Russia, Iran, and a number of additional players. As most news-savvy Americans know, Iran is allied with Russia, which sends them military technology, including advanced offensive and defensive armaments.

The West has long been worried about Iran’s nuclear missile development program. Over the last decade or so, Israel has launched several limited strikes against Iranian facilities in Iran itself and in their client state, Syria. Unfortunately, serious physical and political risks prohibit them from attacking in a more decisive manner.

With all the talk about Iran’s nuclear development, relatively little has been said about their build-up of conventional forces and armaments. According to GlobalFirepower.com, as of April 1, 2015, Iran had at that time over a half million active front-line military personnel, with 1.8 million reserves and almost 40 million citizens fit to serve. They were and surely are very highly trained and well equipped. The result is that their level of aggression against other Arab states was high. They continue to flex their military muscles, with two primary ends in view: (1) hegemony in the Middle East and ultimately the world; and (2) the total destruction of Israel in the short term, and the United States eventually.

The Deterrent

The reason that The War has not yet begun is simply Eastern fear of Israel’s might, particularly with the US as her ally, along with a perennial inability of the Muslim faction in the Middle East to unite effectively in a common cause.

Clearly, the US alone is no longer a viable deterrent. Anti-Israel sentiment in our political and educational institutions and even in some American Jewish circles, has grown too strong. America is not mentioned in Biblical prophecy because we will voluntarily take no part in the defense of our allies. The EU and the United Nations will also certainly not side with Israel. I don’t believe that Iran would risk an attack on Israel on its own without first completing its nuclear program, but with Russia’s help and additional Shiite allies, there simply is no longer a viable deterrent. As for the lack of Muslim commonality, I believe that with powerful non-Muslim allies, the potential reward to Islam as a whole could at any time prove to be an overriding factor.

The Players

Ezekiel 38:2-6 lists the participants we can expect to see coming against Israel in The War:

38 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, 3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. 4 I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. 5 Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; 6 Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops — many people are with you. NKJV

Nations are defined Biblically by their peoples, not necessarily by the lands that they occupy; furthermore, they are named as they were in the day of writing, and boundaries occupied by the lands and peoples must be understood to be fluid over time. One would like to say, “Magog is Russia”, and “Gomer is Germany”, as was common in the early days of American “popular prophecy”, but it just is not that simple. Modern Eurasian civilization is an incredibly complex mixture of peoples who can only roughly be identified, based largely on archaeological and linguistic evidence. With the exception of Gomer and Rosh (see below), I am more or less inclined to stick with my conclusions from some seven years ago when I prepared the attached map.

Gog and Magog: The invading forces will be led by “Gog, of the land of Magog” (v2a). Magog corresponds roughly to the area of modern European Russia, particularly the southwest region, between the Caspian and Black Seas, including Georgia and Azerbaijan. Of course, we won’t see a war launched by “Southwest European Russia.” My assumption is that the entire Russian Federation will be involved. Gog is not a name, but rather a leadership title, like “Pharaoh.” Presumably, then, this refers to Vladimir Putin or a successor. Russia is closely allied to Iran. With extensive natural resources of its own, Russia still desires to control Middle Eastern oil and natural gas, for strategic purposes.

Rosh, Meshech and Tubal: Gog is also the “prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal (v2b)”. These three names, and most of the others, can most likely be equated with some of the many nomadic tribes that over centuries swept west and south from Mongolia and the Russian Steppe regions. Meshech and Tubal constitute most of modern Turkey and are probably Scythian in origin. Though I seem to have omitted it from my map, I think that Rosh refers to the well-attested Rus people, namesakes of modern Russia, who migrated from western Russia and Belarus, southward into the Baltic regions. The peoples of the coastal areas west of the Black Sea are largely of Rus (again, Scythian) origin. European Turkey and parts of modern Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia were known as Rus until after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans.

Persia: Persia (v5a) of course refers to Iran, probably along with her client states of loyalist Syria; Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, eastern Iraq and perhaps Yemen.

Cush: Ethiopia (or Cush, v5b) may refer to the upper Nile regions of modern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, or it may refer to parts of Iraq. Or both. I believe that Cush, as referred to in Genesis 2:13, refers to the upper Mesopotamia region around the Diyala River, and that river is, in fact the Gichon, or Gihon, River of the same verse. Cush, a son of Ham, is thought to have populated a wide region of the ancient Middle East and Africa. The ancient empire of Babel, in modern Iraq, was founded by Nimrod, a Cushite. The later (1st century AD) Kushan Empire is probably Cushite, in my view. It covered much of the Hindus and Ganges Valleys, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the name survives in the Hindu-Kush Mountains.

Put: The KJV and most modern translations equate Put (v5c) with Libya; however, some authors including Fruchtenbaum claim that Libya is equivalent to “Lud”, and Somalia corresponds to “Put.” My own opinion is that Libya is primarily Put, and Somalia is part of the general region of Cush. I would place Lud in Tunisia and far western Libya.

S1cyythian Gomer?

Gomer: According to Josephus and some other early sources, Gomer (v6a), corresponds to Anatolian Galatia, in central Turkey; however, many conservative scholars have identified it with Germany, and that was the view taken by Hal Lindsey and Herbert W. Armstrong. I went with that in the original writing of this post, but I am now convinced that Gomer refers instead to the ancient Scythians, who were once united in a nomadic empire that covered much of the Steppe region north of the Black and Caspian Seas, eastwards into Mongolia, and westwards into Eastern Europe. I would surmise that the region in view here is the Islamic regions of Eastern Europe.

Beth Togarmah: The “House of Togarmah” (v6b) is located around present-day Armenia.

As you can see from this listing, all these pieces of the puzzle make total sense today, in the context of current geopolitical alignments. In fact, I would not hesitate to say that all or most of the colored regions on the map above will be included in the alliance.

The Protest

I don’t believe that the US, the EU or the UN will lift a hand to help Israel. At most, there might be a weak diplomatic protest from these entities. They are becoming more and more anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. The Bible mentions no allies for Israel, aside from Almighty God Himself! Ezekiel 38:13 hints at the only protest from Israel’s neighbors:

13 Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?'”‘ NKJV

Sheba was located around modern northern Yemen, and Dedan is the present Al Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Tarshish, mentioned in a number of Biblical passages, is known only to be someplace in the ancient Mediterranean area “far away” from Israel. Possibly the site of Carthage, or as usually cited, Spain. The reference to its “young lions” is an idiomatic expression indicating colonies or an empire; I would speculate that it actually has in mind the Emirates of Arabia, which are Saudi and American allies, and lean towards friendship with Israel.

The War

Ezekiel 38:8-17 describes the setting and prosecution of the war:

8 After many days you will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. 9 You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.”

10 ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan: 11 You will say, ‘I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’ — 12 to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land. 13 Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?'”‘

14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it? 15 Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. 16 You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes.” 17 Thus says the Lord God: “Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied for years in those days that I would bring you against them? NKJV

This passage describes Israel today, a peaceful nation though not at peace, alive again after nearly 2,000 years, and dwelling in their own land, in relative safety, comfort and confidence. The invasion will come from the north, up into the mountains of Israel (and Jerusalem is always considered “up”, no matter where you come from). Russia, at least, is seeking booty: oil and gas, the mineral riches of the Dead Sea, and above all, the strategic positioning of the nation at the “crossroads of the world.” The booty listed here, as well as the weapons used, are metaphorical because Ezekiel could know nothing of today’s riches and weaponry.

The Outcome

As described in Ezekiel 38:18-23

18 “And it will come to pass at the same time, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord God, “that My fury will show in My face. 19 For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, 20 so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence. The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.’ 21 I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the Lord God. “Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. 23 Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.”‘ NKJV

God will overtly and miraculously intervene, and the invading armies will be totally destroyed. The effects of God’s wrath will be felt and recognized around the world, with Russia’s homeland itself leveled. Reading on, the mountains of Israel will be literally covered with the dead and their armaments. Seven months will be required to bury the dead and seven years to dispose of the armaments.

I believe that tremendous damage will have been done to Israel and its armed forces, but at the close of this war, the power and might of Russia and the militant Muslim countries will be at a complete end. Into this milieu, I see the rise of a world leader, the Antichrist, who will take advantage of the chaos, offering to guarantee peace to all sides. Neither the Muslims nor the Anti-Semitic West will have power to prevent him from granting Israel the right to rebuild the Temple; thus will begin the Tribulation.

The Timing

I have shown that The War could happen at any time. It may follow the Rapture, but I would not be at all surprised if it happened first, in order to give the world, and especially Israel, one final glimpse of God’s awesome power, and to give them one final chance to repent–or more likely, to demonstrate how utterly blind humanity can be!

Ezekiel 39:6b-8:
6b Then they shall know that I am the Lord. 7 So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore. Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. 8 Surely it is coming, and it shall be done,” says the Lord God. “This is the day of which I have spoken.” NKJV

Biblical Tithing

The purpose of any study of biblical tithing should never be to justify stinginess, because this is clearly not the heart of God! Even if we find that the principle of tithing has no direct applicability to the Church, the study will nevertheless show that God surely desires a spirit of generosity and sacrificial giving.

widowsmitegroup_reg01

That being said, I will show that if you wish to dogmatically insist on tithing Biblically, then you have quite a chore in front of you. During two out of every seven years, you must give 22.5% of gross. During roughly four years of every seven, you only owe 12.5%, but you must take another 10% with you to Jerusalem and consume it there. During the sabbatical and Jubilee years, you don’t owe any tithes or offerings at all, but you also can’t earn any money!

Tithing, as taught by scripture, may be summarized as follows:

  • Technically speaking, tithing applies only to agricultural increase, because virtually all the people of ancient Israel depended on agriculture for their living. In practice, Judaism has always applied the principles to any form of personal increase. Of course, this broadening of application, though done in a spirit of Godly generosity, can be categorized as a “tradition of man.”
  • The central understanding of tithing is that God is the real owner of everything; therefore, tithes and offerings are not ours to give! When a Jew “brings his tithes to the storehouse”, he is to do so humbly, realizing that he is merely conveying to God that which belongs to Him. Of course, there is always some ritual involved, but the ritual comes, not with the giving, but with the separating. In recognition of Gods bounty, blessings are always said at the time that the tithe is separated from the portion that God has graciously allowed the “giver” to keep for his own sustenance.
  • Scripture does not demand just one tithe; rather, there are at least two separate tithes, and a smaller preliminary offering. We will not consider here the complex system of offerings (most of which were scripturally obligatory in Temple days) or taxes for the upkeep of the Temple itself.
  • Before the larger tithes were given, one was to separate out the terumah gedolah, 1/40 of all his increase. This was not a “tithe” (ma’aser, or tenth), but a mandatory “offering” (terumah). Like the tithes, this was required from the “firstfruits”; in other words, “gross”, not “net.” The terumah gedolah was given to the cohanim (priests).
  • After setting aside the terumah gedolah, one must then set aside the ma’aser rishon, or “first tithe.” This amount is a full ten percent of the gross, which in ancient days was given to the l’vi’im (Levites). Ten percent of this amount, the terumas ma’aser, was in turn parceled out to the cohanim.
  • After setting aside the terumah gedolah and the ma’aser rishon, a “second tithe” was required. This tithe was a full ten percent of the firstfruits. Its disposition depended on the year. The produce of the third and sixth year of the shemittah cycle (the seven-year sabbatical cycle) was to be given to the poor. This was known as the ma’aser sheni. The produce of the first, second, fourth and fifth years was separated out and blessed, but was not to be given away—rather, it was to be brought to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and consumed there. This was the ma’aser ani.
  • During every seventh year of the shemittah cycle, and during every 49th and 50th year of the Jubilee cycle, no tithes or offerings whatsoever were required. This is of course because no work was allowed during those years.

As gentile Christians, we should realize that every mention of tithing in the Bible refers to practices mandated specifically by what we call the Mosaic Law—that is, the system of legal principles contained within the structure of the Mosaic, or Sinaiatic, Covenant. The covenants of the Tanakh (Old Testament scriptures), including the Mosaic Covenant, were covenants between God and Israel. The Mosaic Law was intended to set Israel apart from other nations and was never meant to be applied to believers of other nations.

The New Testament principle is that God’s people of the gentile nations should give cheerfully as God has prospered them. Though no amount can be legalistically demanded of others, I believe personally that if you don’t set a personal standard for giving that is sacrificial, you are in violation of God’s trust, just as much as if you were a Jew who withheld his tithes and offerings.

So, then, what is the “storehouse” to which tithes were to be brought?

Malachi 3:10 (ESV)
[10] Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need

The storehouse is technically the Temple Treasury, more commonly known as the Court of Prayer, and more commonly still as the Court of Women. I don’t like the final term, because it is not true that women were never allowed to go farther into the Temple compound, and in point of fact, non-Levitical men rarely went beyond this court, either. The passage directly separating the Court of Prayer from the Court of Israel and the Court of Priests, where sacrifices were offered, was called the Nicanor Gate. Women were not allowed to pass through this gate, but when it was appropriate for them to move within, there was a separate door, the Gate of Offering Women, in the north wall of the inner Temple court.


Within the Court of Prayer, there were thirteen offering boxes, designated for contributions towards different tithes and offerings. It was into one of these that Jesus observed a widow dropping two small coins, Mk 12:42.

Geology a Flood Cannot Explain

In a recent post, The Hijacking of Creationism, I discussed the currently obligatory conservative Christian view of why the earth appears to be billions of years old when traditional interpretations of Genesis 1 say it is only about 6,000 years old. I expressed my misgivings about that explanation, which proposes that all or certainly most of the appearance of age is due to damage to the earth’s crust caused by torrential rains and upheavals associated with the Genesis Flood. I also expressed doubts about the qualifications of Henry Morris, popularizer of the Flood Theory.

I do believe in the historicity of the Genesis Flood itself, but I don’t believe that the best explanation of how God brought this judgement about (see Fountains of the Deep, an earlier post) would have caused the level of devastation that Flood Theory requires.

As recapitulation of my own technical and professional qualifications: I am not a geologist, but I am well-trained in relevant aspects of geology. In a long career as a petroleum engineer, I worked extensively with and/or in place of geologists.

There are several sub-fields of petroleum engineering, and I have worked most of them. For most of my tenure with both large and small companies, both as an employee and as a consultant, I served as a petroleum reservoir engineer. As such I have had to be intimately familiar with all aspects of stratigraphy (rock layering), including rock and fluid properties, strata deposition mechanisms and deformations, fluid saturations and flow mechanisms, and, for diagnostic purposes, subsurface electrical and radioactivity profiles. As a well-site drilling engineer, I have examined rock cores and bit cuttings, electrical logs, pressure and flow tests, and more, from the surface to more than a mile deep. As a production engineer, I have observed how both productive and non-productive rock strata behave under a wide variety of external disturbances. In short, I probably know more about rock layers and how they behave than most geologists in non-petroleum fields.

One way to solve the age problem is to simply say, “What’s the problem? God simply spoke everything into existence exactly the way we would have seen it in 4004 BC!” Now, I don’t doubt for an instant that Almighty God is capable of just such a mighty act but just because He can, does that mean that He did? Observation suggests that He did not. To borrow a phrase from 1 Cor. 14:33, God is not the author of confusion, so why would His creation be so complex and appear so tremendously old, if it is not? Just to fool scientists and throw people off the track? I don’t think so!

Several years ago, before the advent of smartphones, I set out to make the 22-minute drive from my home to Belton, Missouri, where I was taking a semester of Theology at a Bible College. The topic of the day was to be Creation, and I knew that my professor was a proponent of Flood Theory. On the way I decided to pull out my microcassette recorder and list as many geological phenomena as I could think of, before I got there, that I know cannot be explained by the flood. I’ve since lost the list, but I recall most of what was on it. Here are some of the key items (in no particular order), with my reasoning added:

Fine clastics

Clastics” are the small, sometimes microscopic, rock fragments formed by “weathering” of larger fragments or massive rock formations. “Erosion” is the process by which clastics are subsequently moved from place to place and deposited in broad areas by the force of moving water, wind, glaciation, volcanic action, or simple gravity. When these clastic “sediments” become fused together over long periods of time by heat, pressure or chemical action, they become the sedimentary rock strata that we see today. My focus here is on the fragments themselves, not the strata.

Weathering of solid, non-sedimentary rocks like granite is generally not due primarily to frictional erosive flow in stream beds as most people think, but rather is caused by expansion/contraction cycles. Perhaps the most important of such processes, often called “frost wedging“, occurs when water enters small cracks and pores in the rock, freezes, expands, and wedges the openings larger. Over many alternate cycles of freezing and thawing, the two sides of the wedged rock can completely separate. Plant growth in these opening can accelerate the wedging. Another very common process that weathers rock is “exfoliation“, which occurs as the surface of a rock heats and cools more rapidly than the interior, causing layers near the surface to flake off.

The so-called “Split Rock of Horeb” is an archaeological fraud, but it illustrates both frost wedging and exfoliation. The large split and the rocks at its base are examples of wedging, and both the Split Rock itself and the foreground rocks show extensive exfoliation. From Google Earth.

Eventually, weathered rock fragments can become small enough to be transported by erosion. As they tumble along, they will be further broken up as they knock into other fragments, a process called “saltation“. Roiling water from the Genesis Flood could have redistributed loose fragments—soil, dirt, pebbles, and even larger rock—and further broken and shaped some of these fragments, but it could not, in a span of only 40 days, have caused any significant erosion of solid rock, even if heavily laden with abrasive silt. Nor could the Flood account for the rounding and blunting that we typically see in sand grains and many other clastics. The Flood, as cataclysmic as it was, simply did not last long enough or provide the temperature swings or friction surfaces needed to account for the clastic structure we see.

Can I prove this? No, but it is my professional opinion, and Scripture has nothing to say on the process. Scientific studies could be done to prove the feasibility (or not!), but I haven’t seen any such research. The relevant discipline to conduct such studies is called “rock mechanics“, and in fact rock mechanics was the focus of my own master’s thesis.

Homogeneity and sharp boundaries

Sedimentary rock strata sometimes extend laterally for long distances—often hundreds, or even thousands, of square miles which, strangely, Flood Theory enthusiasts seem to regard as proof of their point. In general, the strata tend to be mostly homogeneous, with few random impurities indicating uneven mixing with other rock types during deposition. Furthermore, the boundaries between layers tend to be crisp and well-defined. A sandstone, for example, does not normally grade into a shale or a limestone.

These characteristics are the opposite of what one would expect of sediments transported by a violent flood. During the rain, and afterwards as the water receded, any large or dense rocks transported would quickly have sunk to the bottom, followed by smaller and less dense rocks, and finally silt. The final result would be a single, deep, turbidity layer, grading from heavy, dense rock at the bottom, to lighter clastics at the top. Sorting would be by size and weight, not by rock type.

Limestone strata

Limestone is formed from the skeletal material of sea life. A critter dies and sinks to the bottom. Its soft tissues decay, and what remains calcifies. Over time, enough of this material accumulates to form beds that fuse into massive rock strata. In a Flood scenario, we should expect to see calcified remains more or less distributed throughout the single, thick stratum discussed above. Of course, we do see some distribution of calcified fossil remains in all rock types, but additionally we see massive continuous beds of relatively pure limestone interbedded with sandstones and shales and other rock types. I simply don’t see how this can be accounted for without repeated flooding over long intervals of time. Almighty God could have simply spoken it into being in this configuration, or He could have directed the Flood waters and upheavals in such a way as to “stack it” to His own specifications, but why? Only to fool us into discounting our own senses? If I could see anything in Scripture to make me think this way, I would accept it. But I simply don’t!

Let’s say that the cataclysmic geologic activity associated with such a flood caused mountains to cyclically rise and recede in a very short time span and caused rock and debris to wash into the low areas, burying forests and animal life forms. If the up-thrust rock was composed differently from place to place, couldn’t this alternating rise and fall account for the rock strata that we observe? No! Such a violent scenario would cause mixing of the materials, not sorting and stratification, particularly since most of the rock strata are composed of very fine-grained clastics that are themselves a product of weathering and subsequent erosion over long periods of time.

Reversed sequences

Geologists have mapped the “normal sequence” of rock strata—the so-called “geologic column“—at many locations throughout the world. At any particular location, it is not at all uncommon to find that various members of the normal column are missing, since stratum thicknesses vary naturally from place to place, all the way down to zero; but the overall sequence is nevertheless still normally recognizable. It is also not terribly uncommon to find regions where the sequence is exactly reversed; in other words where we find the apparent age of the rocks decreasing with depth. This is evident, for example, in some of the rocks exposed by the Grand Canyon. Genesis Flood theorists are fond of chuckling at the irony they see in this. “Haha, geologists, the joke’s on you! Not only is the sequence wrong, but it is exactly opposite from what you expected!” In reality, this is easy to explain. Tectonic forces cause deformation and bending of entire sequences of strata. In nature we find them tilted to all angles, including completely flipped over. This is the same thing that happens when you use your fingers to push the left and right edges of a newspaper towards each other. The difference is that solid rock is more or less rigid, unlike newsprint. Such deformations over the course of days or even years or decades would cause the rock to crumble and the strata to disintegrate. Over geologic time, however, “solid” rock tends to undergo “plastic” deformation. In geologic (not meteorological) time, it can flow like a viscous fluid—in fact, exactly like a glacier.

Discontinuities and crossbedding

An unconformity in the region of the Chimborazo volcano, Ecuador. The lower strata were deposited horizontally, uplifted to the right, and then after a period of erosion, the upper strata were laid horizontally across the exposed edge. Subsequent uplifting was to the left. From GeologyIn.com.

A related effect that we frequently see over geologic time is that strata get “tilted” to some angle by those same tectonic forces, then the tilting action stops and weathering/erosion cuts horizontally across exposed edges of the strata. Flowing water initially brings debris down from the highlands and cuts river channels in those transported debris fields, but then over time there is a levelling effect, forming the broad, flat plains between mountain ranges and the coastal peneplains. Still later, deposition may form new strata in horizontal beds lying across the eroded edges of the older rock. The interface between the canted strata and the horizontal strata is called a “discontinuity” or “unconformity“. “Crossbedding” usually refers to unconformities in aeolian sands (see below).

Aeolian deposits

Crossbedded aeolian sand deposits at Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona. From imgix.net.

Not all rock strata are deposited by water. Sometimes wind blowing over long periods of time can deposit clastic materials and form rock strata. These “aeolian” deposits have a very distinctive structure that is readily recognizable to geologists. Fossilized desert sand dunes are a subset of this group. I see no possible way that the Genesis Flood could account for these.

Glaciation

U-shaped glacier-cut valley.
U-shaped glacier-cut valley.
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite National Park. Water spilling from a hanging valley into the glacial valley that cut across it.
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite National Park. Water spilling from a hanging valley into the glacial valley that cut across it.

Still other features are formed only by glaciers flowing slowly and plastically downhill. Flowing water cuts V-shaped valleys. Glaciers scoop out large and obvious U-shaped valleys, like using a giant spade. “Hanging valleys” are formed when one glacier melts away, leaving behind its characteristic U-shaped valley, and many thousands of years later a new glacier flows by at an angle to the first.

As glaciers flow, the debris that they scoop out of the canyons strings out to the side like snowbanks formed by plows after a storm. The debris itself is called “till” and it is tumbled and polished into a form that is easily recognizable. The so-called Split Rock of Horeb, in the first figure above, is till deposited by a glacier during the last ice age, in what is now northwest Saudi Arabia. The ridges of till that I have described are called “lateral moraines.” The Genesis Flood could not in any way account for the effects of glaciation. Glacial ice, like rock strata, would crumble if it were deformed and forced to try and flow over a short time span.

Evaporites

Salt, gypsum and a number of other deposits are laid down as a result of evaporation over long periods of time. Water simply cannot hold enough of these materials to form, in a short time span, the deep beds of such “evaporites” often found.

Conclusions

I don’t think that God set out to destroy or remake the entire planet with the Flood! His purpose was to show fallen mankind after the Flood that He would not tolerate their evil ways forever. He saved Noah and his family. He saved animal species that could not swim. He did not destroy plant species or swimming animals, because they could survive the limited time span of the Flood. There was no reason to break up land masses, nor was there a mechanism for doing so, because “the fountains of the deep“, I believe, were the volcanic vents along the mid-oceanic ridges, and the rains were spawned by out-venting from those. So, far from being smashed by raging torrents and mudslides, the wicked were destroyed by rising waters, like in a huge bathtub. Similarly, the waters receded by means of suction into tectonic plate subduction zones, on a smaller scale, a proven and well-understood process.

Another important question not answered by the Flood Theory is, how would the Flood account for the apparent (and in my opinion, demonstrable) 13.7-billion-year age of the universe?

Does Science Trump Theology?

Um, surely you don’t expect a short answer from me?! Not when there is so much bad science to consider, and also—believe it or not—a lot of bad theology, as well!

Most scientists, certainly, and probably most theologians agree that “theology is about God”, and “science is about purely natural and self-sustaining processes.” As someone who has been passionately interested in both theology and science from an early age, my view is that there is an unavoidable overlap. Both disciplines, in a very real sense, share the same goal—uncovering truth about the universe around us—and both disciplines come from the same source—the God who created and maintains the universe.

you can’t fully understand the universe without understanding the Designer who built it and instituted the natural laws that govern its existence, and you can’t fully understand God without understanding the environment He created for His creatures.

I am contending here that science is worth listening to and not simply dismissing as an enemy of faith. Most of my readers are intelligent Christian Believers but are neither scientists nor theologians. To those, I pose the question:

Can we only believe what our eyes show us if it conforms to what we have been taught? Can we not even consider that there are “mysteries” (Paul’s term) that can only be understood with the passage of time? We even have a theological term for that: “progressive revelation.”

JWST images of two distant spiral galaxies, as they appeared an estimated 10.3 billion light years ago using scales based on current physics. © Provided by ABC NEWS

Rom 1:19-20
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them [the ungodly and unrighteous], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. ESV

If God has revealed Himself in nature to the ungodly, then who are we as believers to say that there is no benefit to us in that same revelation? I live by the principle that God gave me “eyes to see and ears to hear”. If my senses seem to conflict with what I have been taught to believe, then I must question both my senses and my beliefs. That doesn’t happen often, because I’ve had pretty good teachers over the decades. But not everything in the Bible is crystal clear. Most trained pastors and theologians subscribe to a particular “hermeneutic“, or system of principles for exegesis, i.e., interpretation of Scripture. See, for example, the book, Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy B. Zuck.

I am a Biblical “literalist”, but that doesn’t mean I take every last word as literal. Does anyone believe that Jesus’ parables were literally true stories? A parable, by definition, is a made-up story designed to teach a principle. Did Peter see a real sheet containing real animals? I don’t think so, it was a vision, not reality, and was meant to teach him a lesson about people, not food. Is “three days and three nights” exactly 72 hours? No, that’s a well-attested Hebrew figure of speech. As is the “evil” or “single” eye of Matthew 6:22, which is about stinginess. Did Jesus promise me a mansion in Heaven? No that’s both a translation issue (“mansion” vs. “dwelling place”) and a misapplication of Hebrew wedding imagery, which Jesus’ hearers would have immediately recognized as such and not understood as a real estate promise (see “Jesus and Hebrew Wedding Imagery“). Will the meek inherit the earth? No, that’s a quote of Psalm 37:11 where David was speaking poetically of the prophesied return of Israel (the meek) to the Promised Land. Are there helicopters in Revelation? Maybe so, maybe no, but everyone agrees the wording there is symbolic.

On the other hand, did Jesus convert water into wine, and did He resurrect from the dead? Emphatically, yes! Science can’t demonstrate the possibility of either, but neither can they be disproved, and the facts are fundamental to my belief system. The same with Adam and Eve, the Genesis Flood, the Sea of Suf (Red/Reed Sea) crossing, manna from heaven, and numerous other phenomena that some folks can’t believe.

On yet another hand, was the Ark a ship, as some would have you believe is unarguable fact? Not in my opinion (see “Ships, Boats, Floats and Arks“), but the story itself is true, nevertheless. Did the Genesis flood change the entire structure of the earth’s crust? Not in my opinion (see “Fountains of the Deep“). There is no scriptural support for this simplistic theory, and there are better explanations for the apparent age of the earth. I plan, in perhaps my next post, to list a number of geological features that, in my professional opinion, could not have been caused by either a local or a general, worldwide flood.

In my view nothing in the Bible is in any way flawed—ever—but the Bible is written to convey facts about God Himself, and about God’s Will as expressed through Theology.

Information the Bible offers about human or natural history, or about scientific principles, is only incidental to the goal of explaining and glorifying God and His Will, and in my opinion is not intended to be exhaustive or fully explained. Furthermore, the human instruments who penned scripture, and the ancient audience for which it was initially penned, were historically and scientifically naïve and would have no perspective from which to correctly receive sophisticated explanations about the universe around them.

Sometimes science presents us with observations that are very compelling but seemingly out of sync with our assumptions based on traditional interpretations of scripture. For example, the following KJV references are all from poetic scriptures praising God for His power and greatness and for the stability and security of the planet He created for us:

  • For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.
    —Psalm 33:9
  • the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
    —Psalm 93:1c
  • the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved:
    —Psalm 96:10b
  • Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed [ESV: “moved”] for ever.
    —Psalm 104:5
  • the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
    —1 Chronicles 16:30b
  • and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.
    —Zechariah 1:11

These verses “prove beyond any shadow of doubt” that the earth is totally immobile, and the center around which the universe rotates! But, thanks to progressive revelation, we now interpret those scriptures in ways that conform to observation. At some point in the course of using our God-given senses and intelligence, it may occasionally become necessary to thus reexamine certain scriptures to see if there is something that we may have missed, or a conclusion we reached in error because in the past “it seemed to make more sense” than any alternative view. Certainly, I’m not talking about giving up fundamental faith issues, but I am suggesting that we should be more astute about recognizing what is fundamental and what is merely tradition. To my thinking, scripture is clear that God is the Creator. That is a fundamental of my faith, but the brevity of the Genesis 1 account and its wording in the Hebrew makes me much less confident in the traditional interpretations.

I similarly question whether Genesis 2 is a recapitulation of Day 6 in Genesis 1, or a separate creation event. What is fundamental to me is that Adam and Eve were real people, created directly by God, and placed into a real paradise where they really sinned. Noah, too, was a real person and all subsequent humans are descended from him. Without these fundamentals, my whole concept of soteriology is flawed, and my faith is in vain.

The dual advents of Jesus were a mystery to all Believers until Jesus died, and His followers had to reexamine ancient scriptures and develop new interpretations of passages that were not as clear and final as had been thought previously.

I do not believe in biological evolution, for reasons that I may go into in a future post.

At the same time, I reject “Young Earth” hypotheses about the way God created the non-organic universe. I believe that Earth is some 4.5 billion years old, and the universe nearly 14 billion. I’ll leave it to a future post to explain how I reconcile this with the “Genesis account”, which I refuse to explain away as mere symbolism. To reiterate, I believe in a literal, worldwide Genesis Flood, but I reject the theory that it accounts for the present geology of the earth.

Please dismiss the idea that “the theory of evolution” has anything to do with the development of the universe. “Evolution”, as I use the term, is about biological processes and “natural selection”, neither of which have anything whatsoever to do with star formation or the origin of the Solar system. If the formation of a star from interstellar gas and dust is “evolution”, then I guess the formation of a sinkhole after a water main break must also be called evolution.

To close out this post, I want to mention several similarities between Science and Theology:

Both disciplines deal in theory. Christians are fond of saying that, “Evolution is just a theory, not an established fact.” Not a “Law.” When I was a kid, the “Scientific Method” recognized three discrete levels of understanding: hypothesis, theory, and law. Many people brought up in that era see the word “theory” and assume that this is something unproven and tentative. That is no longer the case, linguistically. Reality has blurred the boundaries between theory and law. Many things that were once considered “law” are now recognized to have conditions, or limits. “Newton’s Laws”, for example, are now accepted as useful approximations under certain conditions, but under others, they have to be replaced by Relativistic principles, and even Relativity now sometimes must give way to Quantum Mechanics. So, even though biological evolution is still called a “theory”, most biologists are totally convinced of its truth, or at least that it is a valid working principle. Insisting that it is “theory” and not “fact” is, in this era, an empty argument. In the same way, theological principles must be considered theoretical up to a point, because we aren’t God! We simply cannot have a perfect understanding of scripture.

Both disciplines have an infallible basis. What?! Theology is at heart based on the Bible, which we believe to be inerrant and infallible. That is axiomatic to our beliefs. Most sciences, too—not so much biology, but certainly cosmology (the study of how the universe developed from the time of the “Big Bang”)—have a mathematical foundation, and math is an “exact science.” Math is the inerrant “scripture” of science, and it, too, was authored by God. It originated with God, it is absolute, and much of it is very well understood by human mathematicians.

Both disciplines have elements that are subject to interpretation. Some branches of math, like Probability and Statistics, can be erroneously interpreted and wrong conclusions drawn; and proven valid equations can sometimes be applied incorrectly to observation. But the same can be said about scripture. Sometimes scripture can be misinterpreted or misapplied. Again, we are not God!