Difficulties in the Bible (Part 2)
Last week we discussed difficulties in the Bible. And this week we will continue with this same topic and take up several difficult Bible passages that have confused Christians over the years. And we’ll try to give a few partial answers.
There is no part of the Bible that has been under as severe an attack as the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. So let’s begin here with this very first chapter of the Bible. Time and again, we have been assured by critics that the teachings of the creation story in the Bible are in hopeless conflict with the best established conclusions of modern science. Some theologians tell us that the first chapter of Genesis says that the world was created in six days, and each of those days was twenty-four hours long. And then they add that modern scientists know that the world was millions of years in the making so the Bible couldn’t be correct.
But anyone familiar with the Bible and the way the Bible uses words knows that the use of the word “day” is not limited to our standard day of twenty-four hours. Here we are using our modern definition of the word “day” to interpret the creation story. But the word “day” had a different meaning back in antiquity when the story of creation was first written down. Bible students learn that the word “day” frequently is used to denote a period of time of an entirely undefined length. For example, in Joel 3:18-20, the millennial period (1,000 years) is spoken of as a “day.” And in Zechariah 2:10-13, 13:1-2 and 14:9 the millennial period is also spoken of as a “day”. And even in the second chapter of Genesis, the whole period covered by the six days of the first account is spoken of as a “day”. (Genesis 2:4)
Another point that is questioned in the Genesis creation story is that it speaks of there being light before the sun existed. (Genesis 1:3-5- here light was created on the first day) Some theologians argue that it is absurd to believe that light could be present before the sun was, (Genesis 1:14-19- the sun was created on the fourth day) since the sun is supposedly the source of light. But a commonly accepted scientific theory-the nebular hypothesis- is that there was a cosmic light age before the sun became differentiated from the general luminous nebulous mass as a separate body. So here a scientific theory upholds a detail in the Biblical creation story.
Scientists have differing views of what might have been the exact order of creation. Their best scientific guesses of how the earth came about billions of years ago are theories (the theory of evolution) and not facts!
Some Biblical scholars believe that anything written in Genesis after chapter one and verse one, does not relate to the original creation. All the verses after Genesis 1:1 they believe may refer to a “refitting” of the world. They believe that possibly the world had already been created billions of years ago as described in Genesis 1:1 (Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”) And then afterward the heavens and earth was plunged into chaos by the sin of some other race before Adam and Eve were created. Who knows? It’s a unique theory!
Another question that is puzzling to some Christians is how to reconcile the records of genealogies in the Bible with discoveries made by anthropologists as to how long mankind has been on this earth.
We have Biblical records tracing Jesus’ lineage back through David and Abraham all the way to Adam. (Genesis 5:6-32) (Matthew 1:2-17) and (Luke 3:23-38) Some Christians believe that these Biblical genealogies prove that mankind has only been on earth not longer than six thousand years or so. It is said that the Biblical records tracing the lineage from Christ back to Adam (telling how many years between each father and son down the line) only adds up to about four thousand years. And since anthropologists insist that the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations were highly developed for more than four thousand years before Christ, critics insist that the Biblical records are incorrect.
But in figuring out the dates of the Egyptian dynasties, the data upon which these conclusions are built is sketchy. Historians are familiar with the ancient and Oriental habit of exaggeration. Actually the length of some of these ancient dynasties is unknown.
Also, we cannot be sure that there were only about four thousand years from Adam to Christ. This belief that mankind is only about six thousand years old is founded upon the supposition that the genealogies found in Scripture are intended to be complete. But further study of these records of lineage between Christ and Adam clearly show that they are not intended to be complete. For example, the genealogy in Exodus 6:16-24, if it were taken as a complete genealogy containing all the names in the line, would make Moses the great-grandson of Levi, though 480 years intervened.
The word translated “begat” in the Bible is sometimes used not for an immediate descendant but for succeeding generations. For example, Zilpah is said to have borne her great-grandchildren. (Genesis 46:18) Bilhah is said to have borne her grandchildren. (Genesis 46:25) And
Canaan is said to have “begotten” whole nations. (Genesis 10:15-18)
So it seems that we moderns interpret the words “begat” or “bore” to mean a parent giving birth to a literal son or daughter. Whereas the ancient Biblical interpretation of “begat” is broader and can refer either to a parent who “begat” a son or daughter or to a person who “begat” a distant descendant. Many centuries may have passed in the Biblical records between the person and the descendant that he/she “begat”. So we see that there is no conflict between Bible chronology and modern historical discoveries when it comes to the antiquity of man. I believe the Bible was not written to satisfy our curiosities regarding how old mankind is or other scientific matters, but the Bible is spiritual, a holy Book and it is alive – the living Word.
Another Bible story that critics have questioned as being in error is the story of Cain and his wife. “Where did Cain get his wife?” the critics ask since Adam and Eve were the only couple living on earth when Cain grew up. And young women from other families did not exist for him to marry.
In Genesis 5:3-5 we learn that Adam, in his long life of 930 years, “begat” many sons and daughters. There can be little doubt that Cain married one of his sisters. If the human race was to descend from one couple – Adam and Eve- the sons and daughters had to intermarry.
Another puzzling passage in the Bible is found in 1 Samuel 16:14 which reads: “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” So the question: How could a good God send Saul an evil spirit? In this story, Saul was king of
and he had deliberately disobeyed and rejected God. (1 Samuel 15:22-23) God had withdrawn His Spirit from Saul when Saul rejected Him and a spirit of discontent and unrest had come upon Saul. So the “evil” spirit mentioned in Scripture is actually a feeling of unrest and depression. Israel
Gods’ Spirit (the Holy Spirit) brings joy and peace to us. But if we reject God we may lose the joy that the Spirit brought. Would God continue blessing Saul with a joyful spirit while he was rebelling? Possibly God allowed Saul to be unhappy to draw him back from his rebellion.
Critics of the Bible have taught that Jesus was mistaken as to when the end times would be – the time when He would return to earth. There is a story in Scripture of Jesus preaching to the crowds about a time in the future when He would return to earth. Here is what He said: “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things are fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:34) Jesus was teaching here that before He comes again there will be signs in the skies –the sun becoming dark, the moon not giving light, the stars falling and the powers of heaven shaken. (Matthew 24:29) He told the crowd that when we see a fig tree putting out leaves we know that summer is near. And so He said that like the fig tree when a future generation sees these signs in the heavens they are to know that the end is near.
Critics say that Jesus was talking about the end of the age happening during His generation and since the end of the age didn’t occur then that Jesus’ predictions were wrong. But the critics didn’t read the passage carefully. Jesus didn’t say what they misinterpreted Him to say at all! These signs (sun and moon darkening, the stars falling) did not occur while our Lord was on earth, nor in that generation. But Jesus was saying that in the future when these things do occur, then His coming at the end of the age will happen quickly. Jesus said “When you see all these things happen, know that He is near.”(Matthew 24:33)
Another Bible passage critics use to try to prove the Bible is in error is Matthew 16:28. Here Jesus said: “Truly I say unto you, there will be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom.”
The critics say that Jesus was teaching that His coming again (the end times) would happen before some of those standing there would die. The critics point out that since we know that the end times didn’t occur and Jesus didn’t come again during that generation, the Bible story – and Jesus’ predictions- must be in error.
But Jesus wasn’t talking about the end of the age when He will come again, but He was talking about the Transfiguration –which occurred right after He told them about it. If you keep reading in Matthew 17 you see that Jesus was about to take three of His disciples up on a mountain top where they would see glory shining from His face, and His person, and His clothes. They would see Jesus in all His glory described as “the Son of man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) and God the Father declaring: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew17:5)
These disciples had only seen Jesus in His earthly physical form. But now they got a glimpse of Him in all His heavenly glory and in his heavenly kingdom. They got to see another world. – a perfect and sinless and glorious world. It must have been a powerful experience. They (and we) are so used to our earthly bodies that it is hard for us to imagine what it will be like when we will be in heaven clothed in our heavenly bodies.
We see here that the mistake was not on Jesus’ part, but on the part of the critics and the interpreters. Jesus wasn’t saying that the end of the world when He would come back would happen before some of those standing there with Him lived out their lives and died. He was saying that some there would see Him in the glory He had in His kingdom before they died.
Our precious faith comes by hearing-hearing the Word of God- the Bible. The Bible is all important to us because it is light for our lives-we stand on it. God gave us this inspired Word and we can trust God to keep His Word from serious errors. So when there are Bible passages that trouble us let’s not get discouraged. Often we don’t have all the facts or perhaps the passage has been translated poorly. Sometimes we can only see one side of the truth and truth is many sided. None of us are capable of understanding all of God’s larger truth. Often the truth is on both sides of Gods’ mysterious ways. And Gods’ ways are past finding out!