Extinct Animals in the Bible

Lascaux Painting of Aurochs
Lascaux Painting of Aurochs

In Discover magazine (March 2017, page 24) there is a reference to a species of wild cattle called aurochs that lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The article says that the aurochs was the first recorded animal to become extinct. The last aurochs died in Poland in 1627. These animals are portrayed in the ancient cave art of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc and Lascaux in southern France. They have been called “supercattle.” Julius Caesar saw aurochs and said of them, “In size these are little but inferior to elephants. They spare neither men nor beast.”

In the Bible, there are animals described that we do not find examples of in the living biosphere of today. In Job 40:15-24 there is a description of an animal which in the Hebrew is called behemoth. This word is the plural of the word behema used in Genesis 1:24 and many later verses throughout the Old Testament. Behema is usually translated as livestock or cattle, and there is no question but that this is the intent in Genesis 1. Behemoth would be a large, massive example of behema. It cannot refer to a dinosaur, even if we ignore the scientific evidence because the word always referred to an ungulate, which is a mammal. Suggestions that it was a hippopotamus are unlikely since there was another word for the hippo. It could refer to a giant sloth which also became extinct. However, the aurochs probably fits the description better.

Our point is that animals that lived at the time of Job and Moses may not be in existence today. While we cannot be sure what they were, there is no reason to suggest that this is an error by the author of Job. It is also no reason to say that the Bible describes mythical animals or that it refers to dinosaurs. Like every other argument that attempts to denigrate the integrity of the Bible or put it at odds with scientific evidence, better information shows the Bible to be true and accurate. (Hebrew word discussion from The New Bible Dictionary, Eerdman’s Publishing.)
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Translation Problems

One of the frequently raised issues concerning the Bible is the question of translations. We have maintained that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and have quoted 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” and goes on to say that using it can make us complete. Those who denigrate the Bible, view such a claim as nonsense not only because it’s an ancient book, but also because they say it contains internal contradictions.

The truth is that if a person looks at who wrote a particular passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people of the time would have understood it, most of the claims of error will vanish. The ancient time of the writing is not an issue in the case of the Bible because the subjects the Bible deals with are not time dependent. How to get along with others is not a new issue. How to handle sexual temptation is not peculiar to the modern day. How to raise a child is not a topic confined to the present century. How to deal with failure and grief are not time-dependent questions. The question of race relations and rights for women are topics not just making the headlines today but are questions handled with compassion, wisdom, and common sense in Scripture. It is difficult to read the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5–7 and not see the great wisdom and practical value of what Jesus taught for today, not just for that group of Jews on a hillside.

The claims of internal contradictions are also easily handled if a little time is spent looking at who wrote it, to whom, why, and how the people of the time would have understood it. The contradiction between Matthew and Luke in giving the genealogy of Christ, for example, is easily explained by looking at who wrote it and to whom. Matthew is a Jew writing to a Jewish audience. He uses the Jewish symbol of seven and its multiples to give the genealogy with 14, 14, and 14 being used as an indication of completeness (See Matthew 1:1-17). In Luke 3:23–38 the genealogy is given in over in 55 “begats,” but this was written by a Greek author to a non-Jewish audience, so the cultural difference is easily seen. (For more on this see “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” on our doesgodexist.org website.)

Another example we have discussed is in Genesis 6 where the Hebrew word nephilim is translated in different ways by different translators. The literal meaning of nephilim is “fallen ones,” and this is the flood chapter of Genesis. That means it is not talking about aliens or spirit creatures. It refers to humans who rejected God’s teachings and lived selfishly and destructively. The context and the literal meaning of the word are clear. In this case, the King James translators were in error in how they translated the word nephilim. This part of the King James came from the Latin Vulgate translation where nephilim was translated with the Latin word gigantus. The King James translators didn’t know what to make of the word, so they translated it as “giants.” There are many such errors in the King James and other translations. Some of them are obvious, and some are not. In Hebrews 4:8 the King James says, “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” If you read other translations of Hebrews 4:8 you will find that it is Joshua, not Jesus that the passage is talking about. The names “Jesus” and “Joshua” are the same in Hebrew. Jesus means “Savior, ” and “Joshua” means “The Lord Saves.” The King James translators simply got it wrong. By looking at what the passage is about, who it was written to, and why, the error is easily corrected.

Second Timothy 2:15 says to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” You don’t have to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to do this, but you do need to invest some time and energy in looking at who wrote the passage, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it.
–John N. Clayton © 2017


Right or Wrong
We live in a time of moral confusion, but every generation has felt that the question of morality was confused in their day. I can remember as a teenager in the 1950s feeling very confused about what was right and what was wrong. As an atheist, I had no real reason to bring my life into conformity with anyone else’s ideas of right or wrong, but I found that most of my friends who claimed to be religious were not a whole lot different than I was. In recent years we have seen an increasing number of religious/political figures involved in incredible moral turpitude. Atheists capitalize on these incidents to claim that religion has no relationship to morality.

Why should there be such a thing as morality? The more you investigate this question, the more you realize that the issue is rooted in the uniqueness of humans as being created in the image of God. Animals do not have a sense of right ideals or principles. Animals are controlled by instinct. A lion does not think of the morality involved in eating another animal. A beaver does not consider the moral issues involved in building a dam that floods a meadow and drives hundreds of other animals from their homes. On the other hand, humans may oppose a dam on the moral grounds of environmental impact.

The first step in discussing this issue has to be a consideration of the existence of free moral choice in humans. It is our freedom of moral choice that gives us the ability to change the direction of our future. Given a set of rules to govern life, every person must decide whether or not to conform to those rules. A burglar is not controlled in his criminal activity by the lock on the door or the presence of the police. These deterrents may temporarily delay the activities of the burglar, but they will not stop him from breaking into a house. The choice is up to the burglar. If his inner restraints do not stop him, he will break in and steal. Building jails and increasing police department rosters will never completely stop crime.

Free moral agency is one of the most important and most underrated capacities of humans. It is our freedom of choice that allows love to exist. I can enjoy the love of my wife because she has the option of not loving me. If she had no choice in the matter, there could be no love. Sexual love without choice is called rape and is recognized as a perverted, distorted, ugly substitute for love that bears no resemblance to the real thing. Without the freedom of choice, we become animals operating totally by instinct to fulfill our own selfish needs and desires.

If you think through this to any depth at all, you begin to see why we are having a difficult time establishing moral guidelines in our day. If we accept the idea that we are merely animals, totally and completely driven by those instincts and drives that govern all other animals, then morality does not exist! Belief in mechanistic, opportunistic evolution of human beings removes morality and all that goes with it. That includes the family, marital fidelity, family responsibility, integrity, and responsibility toward others. Even the most vociferous atheist will attempt to deny this assertion because we all realize it leads to a dog-eat-dog, jungle aspect of existence.

The starting point of morality is recognizing that we were uniquely created by God with an eternal soul created in God’s image. The consequence of that is free will which has implications in all areas of our lives. Human suffering, the proper standards of how we should live, and our view of how we fit into God’s plan are all rooted in our understanding of who we are and the value we have. The “naked ape” hypothesis cannot adequately deal with this aspect of our existence which is so vital to social order and peace.

Christians must speak out on the foundations of moral issues and teach the uniqueness and value of the human soul. We have a proven guide of conduct. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Rose, Mixed Blessings, and Life

RosesThere is probably no flower in America that gets more notoriety than the rose. Our music is full of songs about roses–“I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” “Paper Roses,” etc. We send roses to people for virtually all special occasions and to convey and emphasize all kinds of messages.

Those of us who grow roses are keenly aware of another side of roses–they have thorns. I love to grow roses because they are so easy to grow. Roses are very forgiving to “klutzy” gardeners like me. They do fairly well even when you forget to fertilize them. Even when you forget to spray them until the bugs have eaten off all the leaves or the black spot has covered the foliage, they seem to rebound and carry on. The only thing I do not like about caring for roses is weeding them. Every time I reach to get the weeds out of my rose garden, one of those treacherous thorns catches me and penetrates even my work gloves to draw blood. There is a tendency to castigate the plant for stabbing you when all you were trying to do is help it.

Many things in life are like roses–children, for example. They are beautiful in many ways, and in many ways a joy to help them grow and nurture. When you try to weed out the things you know may strangle and hurt them, you frequently get wounded by the child. Marriage is another beautiful thing that can bring incredible joy, pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment into one’s life. But there is always some pain in marriage too. The Church is beautiful and a joy to work with, but it is almost impossible to get involved in helping the Church grow without getting hurt in some way–usually by the ones you are trying to help.

The skeptic might look at this circumstance as an illustration of God’s ineptness. If God exists, why should there be thorns among the roses? It is the thorns in marriage and child raising and the Church that cause many to abandon these institutions. Even in our limited ability to understand, I believe we can see the answer to this question which, on the surface, seems to be a flaw in the design. The rose is not only a thing of beauty, but it is also an excellent source of vitamin C. One of the frustrations of growing roses is the fact that a variety of animals and birds like to eat the flowers. It is only the thorns that protect the plant from predation that would destroy it.

In the same way, our dealings with one another have to be conducted so that each person has a certain amount of protection. When I hear a parent bemoaning the independent streak in their teenager, I sometimes ask them if they really want a child who is dependent on them for life. When someone is complaining about their spouse having a different viewpoint on things, I wonder if perhaps their spouse may be right at least part of the time. Sometimes a different perspective prevents us from making foolish mistakes. When I see struggles in the Church over whether my choice of an action or activity is best for another person, I have to ask whether I want the responsibility of always having to have the right answer for every situation.

The writer of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). Anything really worthwhile takes effort and demands a price. Do not let the thorns of life keep you from the real beauty.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Lord or Rabbi?

Jesus saying, "This is my body."

At the Passover feast the night before his crucifixion, Jesus broke bread and gave it to his disciples telling them, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the Passover cup and told them, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Those words are recorded in Matthew 26:26-29. In the preceding verses (20-25) Jesus is telling his twelve disciples that one of them will betray him. One-by-one eleven of them ask, “Surely not I, Lord?” They were concerned about what Jesus had said. They had not yet been tested, and so they were not sure if they would remain faithful under persecution. If the time came to give their lives for their Lord, would they be able to do it? They didn’t know, but Jesus knew. After eleven of the disciples had asked the question, it was time for Judas to ask. Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Notice the difference in his question. The others said, “Surely not I, Lord?” Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi.”

To the questions asked by the first eleven disciples Jesus gave a vague answer saying, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” I suspect that many, if not all of them had dipped bread into the same bowl with Jesus. He then followed with a warning to them, But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” That would have given each of them something to think about. But when Judas asked his question. Jesus replied with a clear answer, “Yes, it is you.” Jesus knew who would betray him. It was the one who called him “Rabbi” not the ones who called him “Lord.”

To eleven of the disciples, Jesus was Lord. All eleven of them remained faithful to their Lord, even when it led to their martyrdom. Judas saw Jesus as merely a teacher. He betrayed his teacher and then in despair took his own life. One word indicated a world of difference in the attitude of these men. One word led to tragedy. The other led to glory. Think about this—do you call Jesus a good teacher, or do you call him Lord?
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Evolution of Big Bang Theory Sounding More Like the Bible.

Big Bang-Artist's Concept
Big Bang-Artist’s Concept

In 1931 a Belgian astronomer named Georges Lemaitre proposed that the universe emerged from the decay of a single supermassive particle which he called “The Primeval Atom.” Since that time there have been a variety of similar explanations with the “Cosmic Egg” proposal being popular in the 1950s. The Big Bang was a label conceived by Fredrick Hoyle as measurements of the temperatures of various regions of space became known, and as radiation from the start of the cosmos confirmed a very hot singularity at the beginning of the cosmos. Hoyle’s label was actually making fun of some of the theories of his day, but the label stuck.

As more and more data has become available, the evolution of thought about the origin of the cosmos has changed. Quantum mechanics is now suggesting a whole new physics to describe the creation. While this has been happening, the evolution of words and their meaning has also taken place. A “singularity” is no longer understood as a point in space and time. It is not a single particle or kind of object. It is a condition of the cosmos in which space and time came into existence, containing ultra-hot and ultra-dense particles. The current theory says that a trillionth of a second after the singularity came into existence the temperature was a billion times hotter than the core of the Sun, and the energy density was more than 10 to the 36th power kilograms (that’s 10 followed by 36 zeros) in every cubic meter of space. To make it that dense, you would have to compress the Sun to the size of a marble.

Jeremiah 10:12 is typical of the descriptions the Bible gives of God’s creative acts. “He has made the earth by his power, he established the world by his wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens by his discretion.” Just as physics now turns to quantum mechanics to comprehend processes at a subatomic level beyond what we can physically see with our eyes, so too does the Bible describe God not in human terms, but in multidimensional terms. Acts 17:28 is a good example with the description of God being totally non-anthropomorphic, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Other passages such as Jeremiah 23:23-24 and 2 Chronicles 2:6 give a similar view of the nature of God as a being outside space and time.

All Big Bang cosmologies have a common problem–explaining what banged and who banged it! What the evidence supports is the fact that the creation came from an entity outside of space/time. This entity wasn’t “nothing” but an entity that had a purpose for what it did and had great wisdom in how creation was accomplished. God fits those properties, and no chance process does. For more on this topic, we encourage you to read the booklet titled “A Help in Understanding What God Is” which is on our doesgodexist.org website. (http://www.doesgodexist.org/Pamphlets/Flatland.html)
Data from Astronomy magazine, February 2016, page 34.
–John N. Clayton © 2017.

The Resurrection Plant

Resurrection Plant
Resurrection Plant 3-hour Timelapse, Credit: Serych/wikimedia commons

An advertisement currently running on television for a lotion product says that it contains ingredients derived from the “Resurrection Plant.” After doing some research on resurrection plants, I found that several plants are called by that name. The thing they all have in common is that they can become desiccated (almost completely dried out) and then return to life when water is applied. Perhaps the best known is Selaginella lepidophylla which is sold as a novelty. The animation shows one of these plants going from dry to revived over a three-hour period. This resurrection plant is native to the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico and western Texas. It is known by various other names including “rose of Jericho.” It’s also called “false rose of Jericho” because there is another species of resurrection plant called “rose of Jericho” that grows in the deserts of Asia and Africa.

Whatever you call it, the Selaginella lepidophylla has a special distinction. Early Spanish missionaries to the American desert southwest used it as an object lesson to teach the natives about the concept of rebirth. When the plant appears to be dead and without hope, water revives it to new life. This can be compared to a person dead in sin being revived to new life in baptism. However, it isn’t the water that gives the baptized person new life, but the power of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection plants are not really dead. Those desert plants are waiting in a dormant state until the rain returns. When Jesus was placed in the tomb, he was completely dead as verified by the Roman soldier who pierced his side with a sword. Then early on the first day of the week, he was alive again. That is a true resurrection and the most solidly verified event of ancient history. I don’t know if an ingredient from the resurrection plant will restore your skin. I do know that the resurrection of Jesus can restore your soul. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The apostle Paul wrote, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3,4).
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Atheism and Translation Issues

Elisha’s Spring Fountain at Jericho
Atheists do their best to make the God of the Bible seem to be a heartless, ruthless, barbaric, evil God. We have reviewed many of their attempts over the years. Recently an example cited in an atheist blog demonstrates the difficulties that occur when an old translation is read carelessly. The story is in 2 Kings 2:23-24. The King James translation tells us that as the prophet Elisha was walking a group of “little children came out of the city” and mocked him ridiculing his bald head. According to verse 24 Elisha “cursed them in the name of the Lord” and two bears came out of the woods and tore up 42 of them. If you stop at this point, you could think that the God who caused this was heartless, ruthless, barbaric, and evil. Why should God be so vindictive when all the children were doing is making fun of an old bald preacher?

The truth is that God is not any of those things. The Hebrew word translated “little children” in the King James Version of the Bible is also used to describe Joseph when he was 17 and Joshua when he served in the tabernacle. It is also used to describe David when he fought Goliath and Solomon in 1 Kings 3:7, even though he was married. We aren’t talking about a bunch of six-year-olds, but rather a large group of young warrior-like juveniles who could have done great harm to Elisha. The city they were coming from was Bethel which was a center of idolatry in Israel. In 2 Kings 10:29 we read that Jeroboam established golden calf worship in Bethel. In this story, 42 young thugs come out to attack a prophet of God. That is a far cry from innocent children making fun of an old man. Another important fact in this story is what the young men are saying, “go up you baldhead,” is not about Elisha’s hair line. In verse 11 Elijah was taken up into heaven, and Elisha was left to carry on. In verse 3 the pagan prophets had jeered Elisha because his mentor was going to leave him. They said, “Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?” They were saying he would be powerless because Elijah who gave him his authority would be gone.

The rest of the story is that Elisha showed his authority by using the abilities given him by God including miraculously purifying the water from the spring at Jericho. Whenever there is a biblical event that looks foolish or contradictory, we need to examine it more closely. We need to consider who wrote the account, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day would have understood it. If you do that, you will find that the Bible is a true, factual, and logical guide that we can rely on. We also learn that the God of the Bible is patient and shows His wrath only when humans refuse to accept anything else.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Atheists Use “Satan Club” to Counter “Good News Clubs.”

Since 2001 there has been an effort to establish Christian after-school clubs in public schools. In 2001 the Supreme Court ruled that religious groups could use public schools buildings after hours as a part of their right to free speech. There are now over 3,560 of these clubs in operation mostly in elementary schools. Doug Mesner and Ann Merlan of the Satanic Temple are offering “after school Satan clubs” to oppose what they say is “the oppressive form of Christianity full of sin, guilt and ‘God’s wrath.’” The Satanic Temple says that Satan Clubs will actually “involve science lessons about evolution, some educational arts and crafts, and a healthy snack.” The term “Satan Club” is used as a “metaphorical construct to promote a non-superstitious world view,” and primarily to draw attention since “Reason Clubs” already exist.

The “Good News” clubs that we are familiar with do not teach children that Christianity is about “sin, guilt, and God’s wrath.” They do offer kids guidance on dealing with sexuality, substance abuse, wholesome recreation, and the need for good moral choices. Attendance is voluntary in these clubs, and parental permission is required. The collateral damage from all of this may be huge. The real issue here is that school officials are likely to close the public school facilities to all outside use, including non-religious clubs and service organizations. Having school facilities sit empty and unused when tax dollars are footing the bill seems to be poor management of resources. For more on this subject see The Week, August 19, 2016, page 17.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Is Hebrew the Oldest Alphabet?

Passover Text Hebrew

Skeptics have tried for a very long time to discredit the Bible by saying that there is no record of Hebrews ever being in captivity in Egypt. Dr. Douglas Petrovich who is a well-known archaeologist and epigrapher from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, has been studying Egyptian inscriptions and has found early Hebrew letters and words in those inscriptions. Scholars have long believed that there is a connection between ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and ancient alphabets. Dr. Petrovich thinks that Egyptian Hebrews took the complex hieroglyphic writing system and put it into 22 alphabetic letters to communicate with other Hebrews in Egypt. He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research last November. Dr. Petrovich says he has translated 18 Hebrew inscriptions from three Egyptian sites. These inscriptions include references to Joseph and Moses. In the coming months, there will be a book by Dr. Petrovich detailing all of this, and we look forward to seeing it. We will be following up on this story when the book is published. If Dr. Petrovich is correct, this would be strong evidence for the Egyptian captivity. Data from Science News, December 24, 2016, and January 7, 2017, page 8. You can read the article online at: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/oldest-alphabet-identified-hebrew –John N. Clayton © 2017