Hermeneutical Horror

The other day I was listening to a Christian podcast where one of the hosts is a minister. He made a statement that just left my jaw on the floor. “We know that the forbidden fruit was not an apple because the apple is not a true fruit. It’s a false fruit.”

Ouch. That’s bad hermeneutics. The problem with it can be seen by asking two questions:

1) What’s a false fruit?

From The Free Dictionary, “A fruit, such as a strawberry, that contains tissue not derived from a ripened ovary.” Since apples contain tissue from a swollen thalamus, they are, indeed, a false fruit.

2) Is that a distinction made in the Bible’s time?

NO. In the Bible, fruits are simply the fleshy parts of trees that contain seeds. They don’t make a distinction over whether the fleshy part came form ovary, thalamus, or anything else. You’d be hard pressed to even find them using any of those words.

An important question that follows is “does the lack of distinction make the Bible wrong about apples?” Not at all. To force the issue is to commit the Fallacy of Modernity (also called the Appeal to Novelty). That is, to assume that because something is new, it is better (GK Chesterton hated it when people committed this fallacy. In his words, they preferred Wednesday simply because it came after Tuesday). Likewise, there is the Appeal to Antiquity where one assumes that something is better simply because it is old.

Are there other examples of the Bible not making a distinction that we do? Yes. Here are two just off the top of my head.

Bats are Birds

Leviticus 11:13-19 contains a list of birds that one is not to eat. At the end of the list is the “bat.” Ah, we might say, committing the Fallacy of Modernity, we know that bats are mammals and not birds; therefore, the Bible is wrong.

Great. Wonderful. We don’t put them in the same category; therefore, any culture that does is wrong to do so? There are several things wrong with that statement.

It’s better to look at the two words in question and see if, first, they are used the same way that we use the words. Both words have different ranges of meaning than the words they are translated to. Such a fact is very common translating between any two languages as different as English and Hebrew. The word for bird, ‘oph is also used to refer to insects (Leviticus 11:20) and the verb form is used for how angels move (Isaiah 6:6), in short anything using wings to fly can be an ‘oph. Even more generally, sparks (Job 5:7) and a scroll (Zechariah 5:1ff) can use the same word in a figurative sense.

The other word, ‘atallep, is only used three times in the Scripture. Here, the parallel passage in Duet 14:18, and Isaiah 2:20. From Duet and Leviticus, we can determine it is an unclean, winged thing. From Isaiah we see that it is a wild pest of some kind. The Septuagint translates the word with nukteris, “bat,” so there is an ancient tradition for identifying it this way.

Simply put, the Hebrews classified things differently. They didn’t use the same classification system that we do. Therefore, whether ‘atallep is a bat or not, it’s not a big deal. Clearly, whatever it is, uses wings to move.

Jonah’s Fish

Likewise is Jonah’s fish. People spend a lot of time debating if the dag was a fish or a whale. I’ve even read commentators who wax eloquent over the fact that it must have been a fish because whales are not fish, and the Bible, being inerrant, would never confuse the two. Same fallacy as above with birds and bats! The Hebrews did not distinguish between whales and fish. It isn’t wrong for them to not split them. They simply never had a reason to make a distinction.

However, those who insist that Jonah’s dag be a fish according to the modern understanding run into a problem with the Gospel of Matthew if they likewise insist on a perfect KJV. The KJV translates the words of Jesus in Matthew as “whale.”

Matthew 12:40 has the Greek word ketos, which on top of referring fish or whales can be used for sea monsters. The word only appears there in the New Testament. But it is the same word used in the Septuagint of Jonah instead of the usual word for fish, ichthus.

In conclusion, these are distinctions that didn’t matter back then and shouldn’t be argued now. When interpreting Scripture, the student must never press a modern understanding on the text in preference to the Biblical understanding.

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Sawing Off Your Support

In apologetics reading, I recently came across the worst argument I can remember. In a chapter regarding Old Earth Creationism, the author argued for a flood that wiped out all of mankind without being global–a regional but universal (from humanity’s perspective) flood. One supporting argument he laid out floored me: science has proven that a global flood is impossible.

Just think about that for a moment and the damage done accepting that argument does to Christianity.

If you’re having trouble seeing it, then put the statement laid out into a formal, logical argument.

We begin with a major premise, a general statement that we then apply to specifics (the minor premise).

Major Premise: If science says a thing is impossible, it did not happen.
Minor Premise: Science says a global flood is impossible.
Conclusion: Therefore, the flood described in Genesis 6-9 could not have been global.

(If you’ve already said to yourself, “But aren’t all miracles scientifically impossible by definition either in absolute terms or in terms of timing?” then give yourself a medal. You’ve seen the fatal flaw in the argument. To argue here against what the Bible describes as a miracle undermines any Christian argument of miracles later.

To demonstrate, we will continue to explore the damage accepting this argument does to Christianity. To see if the major premise holds, we apply it to other Christian doctrines.

Major Premise: If science says a thing is impossible, it did not happen.
Minor Premise: Science says that virgin women do not give birth.
Conclusion: Therefore, Mary could not have been a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus.

Whoa! Whoa! To make his point in one place, has he just accepted a premise that undermines Christianity? Surely not! Surely a trained apologist–nay, a clear thinker–would have seen the flaw from a mile away and realized that accepting the major premise meant he had to discard the Virgin Birth. But, wait, one can be saved without believing in the Virgin Birth (let’s say that a new believer had never heard of the Virgin Birth. He would still be saved. However, when hearing that the Bible teaches the Virgin Birth, the hypothetical new believer should accept it). So, he’s still in the clear, right?
Nope. For the premise denies all miracles. Let’s apply it to the central miracle of Christianity.

Major Premise: If science says a thing is impossible it did not happen.
Minor Premise: Science says men do not rise from the dead.
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus could not have been resurrected from the dead.

By presenting the major premise as an argument against a global flood, he destroyed any possible defense of the central tenet of Christianity. Oh, he might argue that other miracles are still possible just this one isn’t. But to argue that what you yourself are setting up as a rule and standard doesn’t apply when it hurts another argument you like is a textbook case of the fallacy known as special pleading. Either the major premise is true and no miracle is possible, or it is not and miracles are possible.

I trust you see why using it is akin to sawing off the limb you’re standing on.

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A Coming of Age Tale in an Age that Needs One

I just finished THE SWAN KNIGHT’S SON, book one of the new MOTH AND COBWEB series by John C. Wright. One of Wright’s previous novels, Somewhither, won the inaugural Dragon Con Award for Science Fiction). I reviewed Somewhither last year.

Image result for swan knight's son

This is the 5-star review I posted to Amazon.

The Swan Knight’s Son started out with a good story–when the story opens with a clock striking thirteen, you know your in for a wild ride through the imagination. Somewhere it became a great story. I can’t wait for part 2.

I have recently read the Chronicles of Narnia to my boys and am in the fourth book of Prydain. This series, Moth and Cobweb, could be the Narnia or Prydain of our generation. I will likely be reading this one to them once parts 2 and 3 (also Gil’s adventure) come out. It is a coming of age tale in an age that needs them.

Swan Knight’s Son speaks of a realm of wonder and deep meaning that lies just beyond our mortal eyes. A place where everything has significance if you know where to find it. It speaks of an honorable world–both more vivid and more cruel than our own. The shock of a fight between two enemies being fought with honor by both sides speaks to the detriment of our society. We always expect one side to cheat or otherwise be a little evil. Neither knight is one that humans would want to win! Yet, both act with honor—rearming him when an opponent is weaponless, halting to dismount when the first is knocked off. Not all the elven knights fight that way, but the ideal is still reached for by some.

The book is the first in a series and, naturally, sets up the universe. First up, there is a third hemisphere where the elvinkind dwell. Gil doesn’t know about them (meaning that he serve as our audience surrogate and have things explained to him that we don’t know without it coming off as an “as you know” scene). The third hemisphere overlaps with ours, or at least the elves are able to move from their hemisphere into ours without being seen by most people. Gil and his mother can see them, along with most animals, such as Gil’s talking dog.

Gil is 16yo in our modern day and has chosen a father since he doesn’t know who his real father is. He chose King Arthur and decided to make him proud. To do so, he pursues the knighthood. It’s very difficult to find a knight to squire with in North Carolina, a fact his mother counts on. She does not want him to become a knight like his father (whose name she will not give to Gil).

Gil’s mother has been trying to protect him from the elves his whole life. She has immortal blood of her own but of neither the light court of elves nor the dark court. She and Gil are of the Twilight realm of fairie, but both also have human blood. They are the clan of Moth—a Twilight clan that reaches for the light, unlike Clan Cobweb which reaches for the darkness. Gil can speak to animals, an ability that serves him in good stead when he takes a bear for his fighting teacher. He also has a mermaid for a cousin, but she only wears her tail on special occasions.

If you are a fan of John Wright’s Everness or Unwithering Realm books, you will also like this one. There are a handful of sideways references to each but not enough where reading either is required to enjoy this one. For example, both Everness and Swan Knight speak of a mist that keeps elvinkind from human eyes (only the same mist if this book is part of the Everness which we don’t know) and Gil used to live in the same Oregon town that Ilya from Somewhither lives in.

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Rebuilding Your Walls

Sermon Intro

Ever since Pentecost, Satan has been working to destroy the church. He moved the Jewish leadership to stone and arrest Christians. After God worked in Saul’s life, Satan turned to the Romans to bring down Christianity. It failed. With every martyr, more Christians sprang up to fight the good fight. Eventually, Christianity became a legal religion and then the sole religion of Rome. Once it was established, Satan tried to enter it and bring it down. Oh, he succeeded in making this heresy or that problem accepted for a time, he has even brought it about that the three main branches have little peace between them for centuries at a time. But through it all, the Church has remained. Each generation the threats against her seem to be the largest ever and most dangerous. Christ’s bride has stood strong because the Christians who make up the bride have remained strong.

Scripture Intro

As you turn with me to Nehemiah, remember that this is the 20th year of King Artaxerxes, the king who took Esther to wife early in his reign. This king, like no other king before him, knows that God protects the Jews. The Jews have been in exile now for decades. The city has fallen to ruin as we will see. For your city to be ruined is a disgrace. And it gets worse. For a courtier to be sad in front of the king can result in a death sentence. This is the situation Nehemiah, cup bearer of the king, found himself in. We will be reading verses throughout the sermon today.

Nehemiah Disgraced (Nehamiah 1)

 NAU Nehemiah 1:1 ¶ The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol,  2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem.  3 They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”  4 ¶ When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  5 I said, “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,  6 let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.  7 “We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.  8 “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;  9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’  10 “They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.  11 ¶ “O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.” Now I was the cupbearer to the king.  

Nehemiah begins by telling us this is the 20th year of King Artaxerxes I of Persia. This is 445 BC. He had come to power after his father was assassinated. Artaxerses was widely respected throughout the region. He put down a revolt in Egypt. He was a clever king and defeated Greece by funding their enemies who were already warring with them. When the Athenian league was weakened and distracted, he drove them from his territory. And always one to recognize strength, he offered asylum to Themistocles, his father’s greatest enemy, as Themistocles had fallen out of favor.

One of Nehemiah’s brothers comes to see him with some men of Judah. I believe this is one of Nehemiah’s physical brothers and not merely a fellow Judean. The news is not good. Jerusalem lies in ruins. The city walls are down. The once majestic city that had been a beacon of God to all the Middle East was disgraced. Moreover, her people were disgraced. A walled city then was a treasured object. To live in a city with walls meant the city was rich and powerful. It was strong. A walled city was less likely to be overtaken in a battle. When fighting, the enemy would leave as much of the wall up as he could because taking the city meant that much less the invaders had to do when they brought their people in.

As you can imagine, to lose your city like this meant the enemy saw no use for it. To be taken from your city was disgrace enough. For the city to be ruined meant everything was upside down. Your city was your home. Even though Nehemiah has been in the king’s palace for years and become one of his most trusted courtiers, he still thinks of Jerusalem as home. Hearing that the city is ruined shatters his well being, but, significantly, it does not shatter his faith.

Many people back then believed that each people had their own gods. When two peoples went to war, the stronger god won. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians, it meant that Rostam had overthrown Marduk. The Babylonians saw it that way. However, when the Babylonians took Jerusalem, the Jews, for the most part, did not conclude that God was weak. They concluded that they were weak in their spiritual walk and that God would restore them later.

This was Nehemiah’s place. For years, he had consoled himself in exile by repeating that the walls still stood, the people would one day return, God was still strong. Jerusalem still stood as a bright city upon a hill. As long as the walls were tall, he could take comfort. This day his comfort was taken from him. He has been with the Babylonians and now Persians for years, decades even. Nehemiah could have said that the Persians were right and that Rostam was stronger that God. But he didn’t. He fasted and prayed, he wept before God.
When Nehemiah begins his prayer, he lists out the great things of God. He isn’t telling God anything He doesn’t know. He isn’t trying to butter God up. By saying these things he is getting his mind right with God; he reminds himself of who he is talking to. The God of Heaven, the maker and keeper of covenants. The God of mercy and grace to those who walk rightly with Him.

Then Nehemiah says, “we have sinned.” He doesn’t say “they sinned in Jerusalem.” He is part of the people. “We sinned.” How does Nehemiah know the people have sinned? They’re exiled! Moses told them that if they rebelled against God, they would be exiled from the Promised Land. They had been scattered, therefore, they had sinned.
But Nehemiah also knows that there is a promise from God to return the people if they repent. If they return spiritually to God, then He will return them to their land. He will restore the disgraced people.

Nehemiah Takes a Risk

Nehemiah 2:1 And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.  2 So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid.  3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?”  4 Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.  5 I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”  6 Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time.  7 And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah,  8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.  9 ¶ Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.  10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.  11 ¶ So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.  12 And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding.  13 So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire.  14 Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass.  15 So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned.  16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.  17 ¶ Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.”  18 I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work.  19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”  20 So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”  

Nehemiah resolves to bring this matter before the King. He is the trusted cup bearer to the King. That means, Artaxerxes tastes the wine first and must tell the king if it is poisoned. If poison sneaks past him and kills the king, the cup bearer will be killed. It’s not a job for the weak of heart.

Apparently, Artaxerxes and Nehemiah are friends as well as king and servant. The king asks why Nehemiah is sad. Being sad in front of the king could cost you your life. Nehemiah explains with the queen seated next to the king. I believe this is Esther. And the king agrees to give Nehemiah safe passage to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah tells us this happens in the month of Nissan. While he does not give the day of the month, long-standing Jewish tradition is that the king granted the request on 14 Nisan, Passover.

With letters of safe passage, Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and takes stock of the city. He doesn’t just come in and say “this is what we will do.” He makes plans. Like Jesus tells us, “count the cost” before you build a tower. How much more so the walls of a city. He goes all over the walls, even to places that he cannot get to easily.

After three days of inspections he calls the civic leaders and tells them what he plans. He tells them how God has been favorable to him. They agree to the work, except for three: Sanballet the Honorite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab. These three will go on to work against him. Nehemiah warns them that because they have ignored God, they will have no right, portion, or memorial in the city once it is rebuilt.

The Men Work

 Nehemiah 3:1 ¶ Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel.  2 Next to him the men of Jericho built, and next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.  3 ¶ Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.  4 Next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz made repairs. And next to him Meshullam the son of Berechiah the son of Meshezabel made repairs. And next to him Zadok the son of Baana also made repairs.  5 Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters.  6 ¶ Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars.  7 Next to them Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, also made repairs for the official seat of the governor of the province beyond the River.  8 Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.  9 Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs.  10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah made repairs.  11 Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of Furnaces.  12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.  13 ¶ Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and a thousand cubits of the wall to the Refuse Gate.  14 ¶ Malchijah the son of Rechab, the official of the district of Beth-haccherem repaired the Refuse Gate. He built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars.  15 ¶ Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, the official of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He built it, covered it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and the wall of the Pool of Shelah at the king’s garden as far as the steps that descend from the city of David.  16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, official of half the district of Beth-zur, made repairs as far as a point opposite the tombs of David, and as far as the artificial pool and the house of the mighty men.  17 After him the Levites carried out repairs under Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, the official of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district.  18 After him their brothers carried out repairs under Bavvai the son of Henadad, official of the other half of the district of Keilah.  19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, the official of Mizpah, repaired another section in front of the ascent of the armory at the Angle. 

The third chapter of Nehemiah tells how the common people, the everyday citizens of Jerusalem, stood together to work on the wall. Listen to the names. What’s important about them? They answered the call to rebuild the wall. They had a job to do, it looked ordinary but it was from God. They stood together and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. For that, they are recorded in Scripture. They rebuilt wherever they lived. One of these men is a city official, and he rebuild the Refuse Gate. That means this noble-born man worked on the area near the latrines. Bad smell, but he did it because it needed to be done.

What is our work? Today, the church has been under attack for millenia. For the first time, the West shows strains of breaking. Look around us at the court rulings that have gone out. Abortion legal. It tells us that we as a people are woefully wicked if we can stomach the thought of the most defenseless of us being murdered. Christian bakers, photographers, and florists sued for not wanting to provide a cake to a gay couple. Schools teaching less and less about educational subjects and more about safe spaces and feelings. Sandy had an incident just the other night where a high schooler first didn’t know if a nickel was 0.5 or 0.05. Then had to get out a calculator to figure out how much 100 of the item would be at 5 cents each. College students shouting down speech makers who dare say something the student disagrees with. I thought that’s why you went to college, to be exposed to ideas you had never heard before. To learn.

Conclusion

What can we do? These are the walls that have been torn down. Our society lies open to the wolves. How can we rebuild it so that we may no longer be a reproach? First, we do like Nehemiah and pray. We seek God, confessing our own sins. I don’t know your sins, so I can’t confess it. You don’t know mine, so don’t confess it either. Confess your sin before God, and trust the Holy Spirit to move your neighbor to confess his sins.

Secondly, look at what you can do and do it. We can’t all go and fight on all fronts, but each of us has a place where we can fight. You and me, common people, do what God has called you to do and let Him take care of the rest. You have a neighbor on the brink of divorce? Pray for him. Pray with him. Help that family stay together. You can talk well? Speak God’s message. You can write? Do it. You paint houses? Do it to the glory of God.

Thirdly, worry about your job and not your neighbor’s. These men fought. They rebuilt the wall with one tools in one hand and a sword strapped to their waist. Sanballet wasn’t done. He brought men to fight against the people of Jerusalem. They fought back because the work of God had to continue.

Satan will fight us every step of the way as we rebuild our homes and communities. But we know who wins in the end. All you have to do is do your job when God gives it to you.

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