Lights of the Seasons

Lights of the Seasons
Genesis 1:14 says that God allowed the “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night” and to serve as “signs to mark seasons and days and years.” We can call them the lights of the seasons.

Although light is essential for our existence, the Sun, Moon, and stars are intended to serve an additional purpose. In Genesis 1:1 God created the heavens and the Earth. “Heavens,” or “shamayim” in the original Hebrew, would include the Sun, Moon, and stars. Genesis 1:14 tells us that God lifted the cloud cover (described in Genesis 1:2 and Job 38:9) so that the heavenly lights could be clearly seen to establish the circadian rhythm, give us a way to determine directions, and allow us to mark the passage of time.

Today (December 21) is the time when the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the shortest daylight and marks the first day of winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the most extended daylight which marks the first day of summer. We call it the winter or summer solstice. The word “solstice” comes from two Latin words meaning “sun” and “stand still” because on this day the Sun appears to momentarily stop its southward journey and start back toward the north. (The opposite is true on June 21.)

When Earth has made one complete rotation on its axis, the Sun’s position shows us that one day of 24 hours has passed. When the Earth completes one revolution around the Sun (approximately 365 days), we can see that the Sun has finished one cycle of its apparent north-south swing. We know that one year has passed.

It’s the 23.4-degree tilt of Earth’s axis with respect to the Sun that causes us to have seasons as our planet makes its year-long solar revolution. That tilt makes it appear that the Sun is moving north and south through the sky each year and gives us seasons. Without seasons, only limited areas of Earth would be habitable. Without day and night, one half of the Earth would be baking in the sunshine while the other half would be continually cold and dark. When the Moon has made one revolution around Earth, we can see that it has completed all of its phases and we know that one lunar (or synodic) month has passed.

As we consider these lights of the seasons, keep one thing in mind. When Moses recorded the words of Genesis, people didn’t understand what caused “seasons, days, and years.” Now we do. We can see the full meaning of Genesis 1:14 when God opened the sky to reveal the lights of the seasons. Moses accurately recorded what God revealed to him, but he didn’t understand it. Science allows us to know how God did what He did. We believe that is what science is all about – discovering how God did it. True science and a correct understanding of the Bible are in complete agreement because God is the author of both.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Beating a Child?

Beating a Child?
Sometimes skeptics of the Bible tell us that the Bible teaches child abuse and therefore is not relevant to the 21st century. In this day of concern about violence and child abuse, they say the Bible is just an abusive, male-dominated book. The passage usually cited is Proverbs 23:13-14. In the KJV it says, “Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” Proverbs 29:15 adds, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” There is no question that these passages have been used by angry parents to justify whipping or even beating a child–sometimes brutally. Is that what the Bible tells parents to do?

The answer to that question is definitely “no.” The first point is that Solomon wrote the passage in Proverbs to the people of his day. It was a society in which a man had many wives and many children. In Solomon’s case the number was in the hundreds, but virtually all Old Testament characters had a multiplicity of children. The basis of the society both religiously and politically was the father and his rule.

When Jesus came, he changed things. Jesus said that what God had allowed was “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). He reinstituted God’s original plan which was: “A man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” The structure of the family changed under the teachings of Jesus, and the basis of raising children was love, not control. Ephesians 6:4 told fathers, “Provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Colossians 3:21 added, “Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged.”

Does the passage in Proverbs tell fathers to beat a child into submission? Again, beating a child is not what the passage says, and we need to do a word study to see that. There are two different Hebrew words translated as “rod.” One is the Hebrew “matteh” which refers to a piece of wood used as a club, a staff, or a weapon. An example is Exodus 4:2-4 where Moses threw down his rod which became a serpent.

The word for rod that is used in Proverbs is “shebet” which is never used destructively. Isaiah 11:1 is an example: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” Rod is used this way many times in Isaiah such as “the rod of his mouth” in 11:4, and “tool of freedom” in 10:15. Jeremiah 48:17 translates “shebet” as “beautiful rod.” Job 9:34 uses “shebet” as “discipline” in modern translations but as “rod” in the King James.

What Solomon is saying is that a child needs discipline, not brutality. The fact that the word normally associated with discipline and promise is chosen in proverbs and not the word that conveys violence and abuse should clarify what Solomon is saying. Proverbs 29:15 would perhaps be more accurately translated “Discipline and reproof give wisdom, but an abandoned child will bring his parents to shame.” Verse 17 of that passage goes on and says, “Correct your son, and He will give you rest, yes he will bring delight to your soul.” Beating a child never accomplishes its purpose and is not a part of God’s plan for raising children.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Punctuation Causes Misunderstandings

Punctuation Causes Misunderstandings
There is a wonderful example of how the way things are written can affect understanding in the July 2018 issue of Reader’s Digest (page 48). The story is that a professor wrote the following sentence on the blackboard: “Woman without her man is nothing.” He then asked each person in the class to rewrite the sentence with correct punctuation. The men wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” The women wrote: “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.” It is obvious that punctuation causes misunderstandings!

When one reads the Bible in English, the same problem occurs. The original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible were written in a completely different way from modern English. The original documents usually have no punctuation and sometimes not even spaces between words. This is rarely an issue for someone simply trying to understand the basic message, but when people start digging into questions that are technical in nature, it can become an issue.

An example of this is Genesis 1:1-2a. In the King James Bible, there is no punctuation. The Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible reads “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth– the earth hath existed waste and void.” In my studies with Jewish scholars, I was told that the understanding of this in their tradition is that God created the Earth and heavens and the earth became wasted and chaotic.

None of this has much to do with the basic message of the Bible. However, when you compare the scientific evidence with the biblical account, it is important to know how the people of Moses’ day would have understood the words. Sometimes modern punctuation causes misunderstandings of the account which conflict with the evidence of science.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Dinosaur Mania in Media

Dinosaur Mania
We seem to have an obsession with dinosaurs, and popular science magazines can’t seem to get enough dinosaur articles. Dinosaur mania struck in May 2018 with Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, and National Geographic all featuring dinosaurs as their main articles.

Smithsonian told about new discoveries in China. Scientific American gave a speculative review of how new discoveries affect the classification of dinosaurs. National Geographic provided us with pictures of new fossils of the birds and bird-like dinosaurs. Their article makes the argument that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs after the asteroid collision that ended the dinosaur age. All of these articles are presented with wonderful pictures and charts.

Many people in both the scientific community and in the religious community seem to believe that there is a conflict between what these articles present and what the Bible says. Children receive indoctrination in dinosaurs from “Dinosaur Train” and other shows on children’s TV and websites plus revisions and repeats of “Jurassic Park.” It is important in all of this dinosaur mania that children should not be taught that the Bible is anti-science.

There is much about the history of the Earth that the Bible doesn’t address. There is an economy of language in the Bible, and it doesn’t give us information about how God prepared the resources He knew we would need. The Bible simply says He did it, not how He did it. Passages like Proverbs 8:22 ff and Romans 1:18 ff tell us that wisdom and design were involved, but they give no specifics about when it happened, how long it took, or what the processes were.

No Hebrew word used in the Bible could be applied to dinosaurs. The words used in the creation week referred to animals that Moses knew. We don’t see references to bacteria, viruses, platypuses, penguins, or organisms that use chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis to produce their food. The Bible does consistently use four classifications of animals. First Corinthians 15:39 is the clearest statement of this: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes and another of birds.” In Genesis 1:21-27 the same classifications are used: cattle (behemah), winged fowl (kanaph oph), and great sea creatures (tannin). (For a detailed treatment of these Hebrew words, please see “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” on our doesgodexist.org website.)

We may be accused of being too literal in our understanding of these words, but we are looking for the agreements between the evidence and what the bible writers express. So were the dinosaurs birds or were they reptiles (part of the “flesh of fish” grouping)? Science has not answered that question yet. The National Geographic article pushes the argument hard that the birds are simply dinosaurs that survived the asteroid collision, but there are many scientists who disagree. Dinosaur mania has taught us much, but there is still much to learn.

Either way, the biblical account is not in error. It simply does not address what seems to have been an effective tool God used to help prepare the Earth for humans. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is short, brief, and leaves many questions for us to answer ourselves. The methods God used are not important to the overall message of the Bible. If God created everything, and if science is knowledge of what actually happened, they must agree. If they don’t agree, we either have a poor understanding of the scientific evidence or a poor understanding of what the Bible intends to convey. None of us are immune to those two problems, and that certainly includes your author. Let us keep learning and searching for positive answers and stop trying to generate conflict that is destructive to everyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Job’s Dinosaur

Job's Dinosaur
There is an interesting Bible reference to a fearsome creature in Job 40:15-24. Some creationists consider this to be Job’s dinosaur showing that dinosaurs and humans interacted at the time of Job. This is part of an attempt to suggest that dinosaurs and early humans were contemporaries to disprove the scientific evidence that dinosaurs became extinct long before humans existed on Earth.

The question is, “What kind of creature Job is describing?” Did an animal that existed in the past fit this description? The Hebrew word used for this creature is “behemoth” which literally means a large creature. Many animals that lived in the past and some living today could be called large creatures. We must look at the properties of this animal as described in the passage. We know that it was an herbivore (“feeds on grass like an ox”). Also, we know that “his tail sways like a cedar.” The description also tells us that he was virtually impossible to control.

The AP reported on May 5 about a discovery at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Scientists found human footprints inside the footprints of a giant ground sloth. The giant ground sloth was an herbivore that could stand seven or eight feet tall, had tight muscles and front legs tipped with wolverine-like claws. It had a huge tail used mostly for balance when it stood on its hind legs to get at vegetation. It appears that some humans were hunting the sloth and tracking it closely.

There is no denying that ancient humans interacted with these huge creatures. In the Natural History Museum in Chicago, there are displays of the fossils of these creatures, and the picture shows a recreated giant ground sloth at Kartchner Caverns near Benson, Arizona. The finding of human tracks intersecting the tracks of the sloths leaves no doubt about the fact that they were contemporaries. You can’t prove that Job’s dinosaur was actually a ground sloth, but the description fits very well. It is certainly more likely than the claim that the animal was a T-rex or a brontosaurus.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Joseph’s Role in Christmas

Joseph's Role in Christmas
Many of us remember news broadcaster Paul Harvey, who had a series he called “The Rest of the Story.” He would tell us things related to a current news story that we might not be aware of, but which were significant to the story. I suggest that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ, is “the rest of the story” in this season as we look at Joseph’s role in Christmas.

Joseph was a Jew, as was Mary (Matthew 1:1-17). In the Jewish system, the marriage relationship was complex. The groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride of his intent to marry her. This promise involved a gift, it was made in the presence of two witnesses, and it could not be revoked without a formal divorce. The groom and bride would not have relations or live together for a year as the bride stayed with her parents. At the end of the year, the groom would come and take the bride to his family home and the marriage would be consummated. Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly to prove that the bride was not pregnant and that her claim to be a virgin was true. If it were established that the bride was not a virgin, she would be stoned to death by the men in the town according to Deuteronomy 22:20-21.

In Joseph’s case, it seemed clear that Mary was not a virgin because she was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). This meant that she could be stoned to death for violating the Jewish law. We see this in John 8:3-5. When the lawyers and Pharisees quoted the law, Jesus told the sinless ones to start throwing stones. They were all afraid to cast the first stone and one-by-one they slipped away.

Joseph loved Mary, and you have to know that his heart was breaking at the situation. He had a dream in which an angel told him that the baby Mary was carrying was a special creation of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-25). For that reason, Joseph should not fear that he was breaking the Jewish law. It would have been easy for Joseph to explain away the dream as a figment of what he wanted, or as a product of stress. Instead, he accepted the dream and went on with the marriage.

Joseph sets the standard of obedience to God by accepting Mary and the situation she brought into his life. He accepted being a father to Jesus and went through all of the painful experiences of a Jewish father (Luke 2:41-48). He did all of that even though he didn’t understand it all (Luke 2:49-50).

Joseph is an unheralded hero of the Christmas story. We need to follow his example of being obedient to the things God calls us to do, no matter what life and circumstances may bring upon us. Joseph’s role in Christmas should be the “rest of the story” for us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Understanding the Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon
I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do know where to get the information I don’t have personally. Someone recently asked about why the book Song of Solomon is in the Bible. I have quoted Song of Solomon 1:5-6 where a lover tells her lover in a poem to love her not because she is black, but because of who she is. This passage shows the stupidity of racial prejudice, but that is clearly not the purpose of the book. To understand this book I researched the work of Yakov Rosenberg who is at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies. Here is his response:

The Most Peculiar Book of the Bible- The Song of Solomon is an unusual biblical book. At first glance, it seems to be nothing more than a sensual love poem describing the passion between two young lovers. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that this is a carefully crafted religious allegory. For Jews, the male and female lovers symbolize God and his people, Israel. For Christians, they symbolize Christ and his bride, the Church. How can we access this veiled meaning?

The Authentic Love in Hebrew- The best way to unlock the Song of Solomon’s concealed allegory is to appreciate the beautiful poetry in its original language. Take for example the verse “your lips distill nectar, my bride” (4:11). In English, this does not make much sense. But in the original Hebrew, the words נֹפֶת תִּטֹּפְנָה שִׂפְתוֹתַיִךְ nofet titofnah siftotayih are a wonderful example of onomatopoeia. Listen to the repeated letters P and T. Can you hear the sound of dripping honey? It embodies the sweet Torah, which God gave Israel.”

Students of literature will understand Rosenberg’s explanation of Song of Solomon better than I, but even this physical scientist can understand that many biblical passages need honest study and broad educational experience to understand them completely.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

What Is Your Sanctuary?

Sanctuary
Where do you go to get away from the problems and pressures of life? Don’t say that you don’t have a sanctuary because we all do. It may be a “man cave,” or a place in the woods, or the bathroom, but there is some place where we escape. The problem is that the physical place we go to doesn’t get us away from the things we want to escape. Many people turn to a chemical solution to find our sanctuary. It may be alcohol, or pot, or a prescription drug. The problem with those escapes is that they can become what we need to escape from.

In the Old Testament, two different Hebrew words were used to identify the sanctuary. One was “miqdash” which means “a place set apart” where God was accessible to the people. The other was “qodesh” which referred to a place of physical separation. Both of these uses referred to a physical structure. It was a consecrated holy place–first the tabernacle and later the temple.

The Israelites identified the sanctuary as the “house of God.” (See Judges 20:18; 2 Chronicles 5:1; Ezra 7:20; and Nehemiah 6:10.) The limitations of a physical sanctuary are obvious. You can’t always be where the sanctuary is! I have a place in Hyalite Canyon in Montana where I love to go to when I need to get away, but it’s a long way from Michigan to Montana.

In the New Testament the “house of God” is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Peter writes, “You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). First Corinthians 3:16 tells us that we “are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in (us).”

The church is not a building where we can go as a sanctuary. Second Corinthians 6:16 says that we, the church, “are the temple of the living God, even as God has said, ‘I will dwell IN them and walk IN them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’” Notice that God is IN us!!! God’s Spirit can take that which presses on us and change us so we can bear it. Read 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God makes that promise to us!!

We can be in our sanctuary any time and any place we choose. Frequently I will get in my boat and float down the river that flows behind my house where I can talk to God and watch the wildlife around me and feel removed for a while from the current problem. I can also go to that place in Hyalite Canyon beside the waterfall and be in my sanctuary. I can be in my sanctuary wherever I am because I am not limited by time or place. In God’s wisdom He has given us a way of escape that works.

I return to my original question. What is your sanctuary? Don’t rely on buildings or temples or chemicals or anything physical. “But you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
–John N. Clayton © 2017