Medicine in Bible Times and Beyond

Medicine in Bible Times and Beyond

Here are some facts you should know about medicine in Bible times:

*The Old Testament does not contain a single reference to a doctor or medicine used to heal the sick.

*There are references in the Talmud and Mishnah. The Talmud and Mishnah are two sets of writings about Jewish civil and ceremonial law. The Mishnah was oral tradition and makes up the first part of the Talmud. These writings are not part of the Bible, and they were written by Jewish scholars as late as the 5th century AD. The Talmud and Mishnah references are not complementary to doctors calling physicians “the trades of robbers.” This reminds us of Mark 5:25-26, which describes a woman with a blood disorder who had “suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all she had, and was nothing bettered but grew worse.” Another statement in the Talmud says that physicians are destined for Gehenna, a place of torment, or hell.

*Rabbis counted 248 “limbs” in the human body and 365 “sinews.” This corresponds to the 248 positive commandments in the Old Testament and the 365 negative ones.

*Egypt had an extensive medical system with dentists, doctors of the eyes, doctors of the abdomen, and doctors of the anus. They had no brain doctors and referred to the brain as “stuffing for the head.”

*In the New Testament, Paul refers to Luke as “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. Luke was not Jewish, and he did not use medical vocabulary in his gospel or the book of Acts.

*In New Testament times, people used frankincense and myrrh as medicines.

*Laodicea was famous for eye ointments and prominent eye doctors.
In Revelation 3:18, Jesus counsels the Laodicean church to get “salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” referring to their spiritual blindness.

*Christians became noted for supporting medicine by 200 AD as physicians were listed among the Church’s most famous martyrs. By the late 300s AD, hospitals were being created by Christian leaders.

These facts about medicine in Bible times came from The Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Bart Ehrman’s Bias and the Facts

Bart Ehrman's Bias - Misquoting Truth

Perhaps the theologian most often quoted by atheists today is Bart Ehrman. Ehrman graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary is a “Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and has written many books harshly criticizing the Bible. Perhaps his most cited book is Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Atheists reference Ehrman using his credentials and position to declare his credibility. We suggest that Bart Ehrman’s bias relates to his motivation to sell books, not an open-minded search for truth. Here is one example:

“There are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament…We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them…in thousands of ways” (pages 10-11).

So what are the facts?
If one manuscript says “Christ Jesus” and another says “Jesus Christ,” is that an error? Of the 400,000 errors that skeptics claim, most are differences in spelling or the order of words. Scholars studying manuscripts report a 99% agreement between all known manuscripts. None of the existing variations change any crucial element of the Christian faith.

Scholars have over 5700 manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament available to them. Those manuscripts are not from one recent time. Some are from very early, and others are 200 or 300 years later. When you compare the earlier manuscripts with the more recent ones, you don’t find significant changes. This is true even though they are not in the same language. There are more than two million pages of text and yet no significant variations.

Bart Ehrman’s bias is explained in a book by Timothy Paul Jones. The book is Misquoting Truth published by Intervarsity Press.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reliability of the New Testament

Reliability of the New Testament

Atheists are desperate to attack the reliability of the New Testament. Bart Ehrman wrote that the biblical stories about Jesus “were changed with what would strike us today as reckless abandon. They were modified, amplified, and embellished, And sometimes they were made up” (Bart Ehrman in his book The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, page 269.)

Atheist scholars like Ehrman assume that the average person is too ignorant to understand why such a statement isn’t true. They assume that most people won’t take the time to find the answer to a challenge like this one. Thankfully some Christian scholars have responded. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones explains why Ehrman’s statement is false.

The accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching emerged among eyewitnesses shortly after the events occurred. Can we trust the New Testament accounts to be true? How about the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Paul summarizes the story of Christ’s resurrection with two Greek words – paradidomi and paralambano. When these two words were used together, ancient Greek readers understood that the writer was citing oral history. Paul wrote in Greek, but in that passage, he called the apostle Peter by his Aramaic name “Cephas.” Paul also used a Greek word to describe an Aramaic method for joining clauses. What that means is that the oral history was originally in Aramaic. People in Galilee and Judea spoke Aramaic, and Paul must have received this oral history in Aramaic.

What that tells us is, Paul heard the story of Jesus from eyewitnesses (Galatians 1:18) who conveyed it to him in Aramaic. In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul reminds the Corinthians of what he had told them three years earlier. Paul carried this message everywhere he went, meaning that it was unchanged as it spread across the Roman empire. Clearly, the story of Jesus’ resurrection was not made up long after He died. The account was not “changed with reckless abandon”.

We can trust the reliability of the New Testament. The average person may not have the knowledge to see the fallacies in every atheist statement, but there are scholars who can. This information came from Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus by Timothy Paul Jones, published by Intervarsity Press.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Animal Viruses and Human Illness

Animal Viruses and Human Illness

The COVID-19 virus has been too lethal to ignore. This pandemic makes us realize that there are many viruses out there, and the current one is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible. As early as AD 165 to 180, pandemics killed massive numbers of people. Smallpox killed 5 million, and bubonic plague killed 25 million on four different occasions starting in 541. Researchers today are attempting to catalog links between animal viruses and human illness. They estimate that there are probably 1.6 million animal viruses yet to be discovered in mammal and bird populations and that 827,000 of them could cause disease in humans.

Viruses are part of the natural world in which we live. They serve useful purposes in aiding animal digestion, reproduction, and elimination of wastes. The problem is that each animal has its own set of viruses suited for that animal’s diet and living conditions. If an animal’s virus jumps into another species with a different diet and living conditions, the results can be destructive. That is the connection between animal viruses and human illness. Most of the viruses we know about came into the human population from rodents, including rats, bats, birds, chimps, and mosquitos. Some have jumped through several animals such as bats giving the virus to cattle and camels, which gave it to humans.

The Old Testament laws had health restrictions, which made virus transmission less of a problem. People were also not in such proximity to one another or to animals that had destructive viruses. Living in very arid conditions reduced disease transmission, and the dietary laws worked against most virus transmission. When you read through Deuteronomy and Leviticus, you see elaborate precautions that we now understand had hygienic benefits to minimize viral transmission.

In the New Testament, many of these rules were continued. There was a prohibition against drinking blood, and the increased use of baking and boiling foods contributed to a low virus transmission rate. Moral rules that reduced the spread of disease included the elimination of polygamy and polyandry and the strong condemnation of prostitution. In time, the keeping of exotic pets and the acceptance of foods previously forbidden to Israel tended to thwart human attempts to fight disease.

God has given us the capacity to understand viruses and the connection between animal viruses and human illness. God has also given us the tools to control these virus issues. He has also given us hope for something better. Will we use the tools and techniques God gave us to stop the pandemics, or will we open our culture to more viral events in the future? Time will tell.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from “The Virus Hunters,” Smithsonian magazine, July/August 2020, and THIS STORY on virus hunters from 2018.

The Concept of Repentance

The Concept of RepentanceOne of the most misunderstood aspects of the Christian faith is the concept of repentance. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, view repentance as a negative, oppressive act in which an individual is forced to verbally deny some pleasure that the religious establishment condemns. The fact is that the biblical concept of repentance is a positive, progressive movement toward the future.

The Old Testament refers to God repenting. Genesis 6:6-7 says, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Exodus 32:14, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11, and many other passages speak of God repenting. There is a Hebrew word “nacham,” which expresses God’s repentance. God is immutable in His being but changes his relationship and attitude.

The concept of repentance in humans uses the Hebrew word “shoob,” describing a positive, progressive change. Second Kings 23:25 says of Josiah that “there was no king before him which repented to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.” Many versions translate this concept to “turn” from destructive behavior to a positive one.

Repentance is a major theme of the New Testament. Examples are Acts 17:30, Mark 1:4 and 6:12, Luke 5:32 and 24:47. The word is also used in reference to congregations, as in Revelation 2:5,16 and 3:3. The Greek word used to describe this process is “metanoia,” with “meta” meaning change and “noia” referring to the mind. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words defines repentance as “a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook, and direction.”

Biblical examples give us a clearer picture of the concept of repentance. The city of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5-10 changed from a corrupt, immoral, violent, destructive place to one of peace and care. Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9 changed from a corrupt tax collector to an honest and generous supporter of the poor. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:19-21 changed from a drunken customer of the pleasure industry to a responsible citizen, and the Jews in Acts 2:38-41 changed from hypocritical, selfish legalists to benevolent Christians.

Repentance is not religious enslavement of humans, but a positive change. Jesus said in Matthew 3:8, “Bring forth fruits which prove your repentance.” Ephesians 4:22-24 speaks of “being mentally and spiritually remade … with a new nature made by God’s design.” Colossians 3:9-11 speaks of “putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is being remolded in knowledge.” Repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a positive change that we all need to make. Who would not like to see repentance in the politicians and rulers of the world, especially if that change involved the love and peace of Matthew 5 – 7?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Hidden Messages in the Bible

Hidden Messages in the Bible - The NapkinWe have all seen dubious claims about hidden messages in the Bible. They include everything from numerology to codes with special meanings. The only place where hidden messages do unquestionably occur in the New Testament is in the book of Revelation. That book uses symbols that the Christian readers would understand, and the Romans would not. However, there are a few cases that we might call hidden messages in the Bible that Christian or Jewish readers might understand and which other readers would miss.

One such example is the description of the burial tomb of Jesus in John 20:1-9. “Then Simon Peter … went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen … as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”

Jewish protocol was that when the master of the house was finished eating, he would wipe his mouth and face and toss the napkin aside. That action indicated that the contamination was removed from him, and the event was ended. If he folded the towel and set it in order, that was a sign that he was not finished and would return to finish the meal or whatever he had been working on.

The folded napkin and the missing body sent a strong message to Peter and the women who visited the tomb. Jesus was indicating that He would return. It was a hidden message to the followers of Jesus that the Romans would not have understood. While it was not obvious or miraculous, it could be an important hidden message to those who were about to become the apostles of Jesus Christ.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Richard Dawkins Description of God

Dawkins Description of God
Yesterday we quoted the Richard Dawkins description of God from his book The God Delusion.

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins

For the past two days, we have looked at the misunderstandings involved in the statements like the one above that are made by atheists to justify denying God’s existence. We want to make it clear that an argument based on not liking something the Bible says about God ignores the positive evidence that God does exist. In spite of that fact, the Dawkins description of God reflects a level of theological ignorance that is quite astounding. We examined some of the points yesterday, but here are some more examples:

RACIST– It is essential to distinguish between the Old Testament and the New Testament in terms of the system that they teach. The Old Testament was a political system as well as a religious one. Israel came out of Egypt as a new nation with a leader and a code of conduct that was political as well as religious. When Jesus came, He brought a new system. It was not a political system, and Christ made that clear many times. When Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” people had a hard time comprehending what He was saying. The Crusades were a product of not understanding that Jesus taught a non-physical kingdom. What is more significant is that Jesus lived what he taught. The classic example is the incident with the Samaritan woman in John 4. The writer even points out that fact (John 4:9), and we see Jesus staying in that Samaritan city for two days.

SADOMASOCHISTIC – The notion of getting sexual pleasure by hurting someone else is the exact opposite of the biblical teaching. Genesis 2:24 introduces the concept of “one flesh” and 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 refers to women’s sexual needs being met on the same level as the man’s needs. The Bible does report the history of horrible human violence against women. For example, Judges 19:25-20:7 reports a gang rape that ends in the death of a woman. We have pointed out previously that reporting on a historical event doesn’t mean endorsing it.

Throughout the ages, God has given humans a guide for how to live. To get the best of life, sex, food, friendship, family, and peace, we must all make the right choices. In the Old Testament, those choices were couched in the teachings of Moses and were designed for a primitive people in a wild and difficult environment. The Dawkins description of God misses the point.

With the coming of Christ, the situation in the world changed. It was time to break down political fences and build a system that would include all humans, all cultures, and all physical circumstances. The concept of love that was not self-serving and not sexual in its expression became a part of the message of Christ. The human tendency to act selfishly and violently means that the teachings of Christ are always up against a world of sin and rebellion. Rational human beings, however, will see the wisdom in what Christ taught. They will understand that this wisdom is a product of the Creator, not an accidental experiment in human behavior.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Cannibalism in the Bible

 Cannibalism in the Bible

Atheists and skeptics often take passages out of context as evidence that the Bible is merely the opinions of people and not the teachings of God. One such claim that we have seen in recent articles is the suggestion that the Bible endorses and encourages cannibalism. It is true that there are historical reports of cannibalism in the Bible. Second Kings 6:28-29 is the most commonly used passage where cannibalism takes place. Other passages are Deuteronomy 28:53, Isaiah 9:20, Jeremiah 19:9, and Lamentations 2:20 and 4:10.

It is essential in any question about the Bible to look at who wrote the passage in question, what the purpose of the writing was, to whom it was written, and how people of the time in which it was written would have understood it. This passage and all of the others cited above are merely a report of history. If you read the front page of a modern newspaper about a murder, do you assume that the person who wrote the article is the one who committed the crime? Of course not. A news reporter reports the news. They don’t do the event on which they are reporting. The fact that there are reports of cannibalism in the Bible does not mean that it endorses the practice.

The passage in 2 Kings 6:24-29 tells about King Benhadad who was the King of Syria invading Samaria. The people in Samaria ran out of food, and we are told that “an asses head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver.” Two women who were starving to death agreed to kill their two sons and eat them. The first son was killed and eaten and the second woman reneged on allowing her son to be killed and eaten. This is a news report, not ordered or sanctioned by God. The report is made to demonstrate how severe the starvation was.

There is no report of cannibalism in the Bible where it is approved, but the Bible does accurately record history. In the New Testament, the body is considered to be the temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Human life is sacred in the New Testament, and the teachings of Jesus are teachings of love, forgiveness, compassion, and care. Tomorrow we will discuss suicide in light of these teachings of Christ.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?
In our day of constant protests about human rights and discussions about racism and sexism, skeptics say that women are treated as second-class citizens in Christianity. The truth is that there are no second-class people in Christianity.

In his excellent book Under the Influence (Zondervan Publishing, 2001) Alvin J. Schmidt presented a strong historical case for the fact that Christianity has been the main influence for women’s equality. The Bible does not portray women as second-class citizens or as subservient to men.

One of the sources of misunderstanding is the word “submission” in the New Testament. Two Greek words can be translated “submit.” One is the Greek word hupeiko which means to retire, withdraw, yield, or surrender. It is used only in Hebrews 13:17 where Paul wrote, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” The idea involved is to turn everything over to someone else, and that word is not used in the relationship of women to men.

The Greek word used to portray the husband-wife relationship is hupotasso. It comes from two root words: hupo meaning “under” and tasso meaning to “arrange.” It can be used in a military sense, and it means to submit yourself to or obey. When I was in the army, I submitted to my commanding officer. I was not a slave or a second-class citizen. Our commanding officer gave us a mission. Together we arranged a way to solve the mission objective. I never questioned the role of my commanding officer, but I knew he was dependent on me to arrange things to achieve our mission.

Ephesians 5 begins its discussion of submission by telling Christians to submit (hupotasso) to one another (verse 21). Christians have a common goal, and we accomplish that goal by being in submission to God and to one another as each of us has different gifts (1 Corinthians 12). God gives us a job to do, and we are valued as agents to get that job done. Paul then uses the same word to describe the relationship of wives to their husbands (verse 22).

Sometimes a man will be in subjection to his wife. When it comes to laundry and grocery shopping, I do what my wife says. The picture of husband and wife in Ephesians and throughout the New Testament is a picture of trust, love, service, and respect. Paul tells husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). He told wives to respect their husbands(verse 33). The goal is a happy marriage and ultimately eternal life.

Christianity elevates women and places them as equals to men in every way. Each one has roles and abilities unique to them and to their gender. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). There are no second-class citizens in Christianity.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Transactive Memory and the Bible

Transactive Memory and Couples
Many times a new concept appears in the scientific literature, and when we look at it, we see that it is something that the Bible has already described. A recent example of this is a concept given by social psychologist Daniel Wegner called transactive memory.

Transactive memory is defined as “a shared system for encoding, storing, and retrieving information.” Wegner explains this concept in this way: “People in close relationships know many things about each other’s memories. One partner may not know where to find candles around the house, for instance, but may still be able to find them in a blackout by asking the other partner where the candles are. Each partner can enjoy the benefits of the pair’s memory by assuming responsibility for remembering just those items that fall clearly to him or to her and then by attending to the categories of knowledge encoded by the partner so that items within those categories can be retrieved from the partner when they are needed. Such knowledge of one another’s memory areas takes time and practice to develop, but the result is that close couples have an implicit structure to carrying out the pair’s memory tasks.”

Psychologists are using this concept to help people dealing with the death of a spouse. As a person who has gone through that experience, I can testify that when your wife of 49 years dies, a part of you seems to die too. Panic attacks after the death of a spouse are common, and that is when you suddenly are faced with having lost a large part of your memory.

Bible readers will recognize this “new” concept. In the Old Testament, a variety of transactive memory devices were commanded and put in place by God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 12, 20; Exodus 13:14; and Joshua 4:6 are all cases where devices such as writing history on door posts were given to help remember the past and teach children the value of a culture. The various feasts of Israel in Exodus 23:15-16 were transactive memory devices.

In the New Testament, the congregation was developed as a transactive device. Acts 2:41-47 shows transactive memory helping the first century Church. James 5:14-16 described congregational conduct in various circumstances in life. The Bible itself is a transactive device as it is described in 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

One of the problems with megachurches is that much of the transactive memory value of the local congregation is lost. It is hard to pray for or to encourage someone you don’t know. Death is of little meaning if you don’t know the person. The congregational conduct discussed in Hebrews 10:22 is difficult in a huge congregation.

When Jesus prayed for unity, He gave us something that can sustain us in every stage of life and in every crisis. We defeat that blessing when we make entertainment the focus of our worship and when we don’t build relationships that allow transactive memory to function. Transactive memory may be new to the world of social psychology, but it is as old as the Bible itself.
–John N. Clayton © 2017