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I Won…

Zondervan’s King James Version Old Testament Commentary from Zondervan and Koinonia.

In honor of the King James Version’s 400th anniversary, Koinonia was giving away an Old Testament Commentary or New Testament Commentary. All you had to do to was:

To enter just comment below by Thursday evening with a common English phrase which traces its origins back to the King James Bible!

My entry: “Out of the mouth of babes.”

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The Feasts of the Lord Redux

I recently taught a discipleship training class at our church entitled The Feasts of the Lord: Jesus Fulfills the Feasts. It was a three week (1x wk.) course.

I know I was blessed by and learned more from the study, preparation and teaching than anyone listening. Even so, I have an opportunity for an encore at the Sweetwater Aglow November meeting. It will be November 13, 10am-3pm at the Holiday Inn Express in Sweetwater. Lunch will be provided free of charge, and everyone is invited to attend. I hope to see you there.

One of these days, I will get around to posting about this.

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The Feasts of the Lord

This is one I have been looking forward to for a while, but now that it’s here, I’m a little nervous.

For the next three (3) Sunday nights I will be teaching a series at our church entitled The Feasts of the Lord: Jesus Fulfills the Feasts. It’s a topic that is absolutely fascinating, and I hope I am able to do it a little justice.

I believe the series will be recorded, and, if so, I will try to post the audio here. At the very least, I will try to post summaries each week.

I hope it goes well. Pray for me.

And if any of you happen to be in the Sweetwater, TX area any of the next three (3) Sundays, feel free to drop in.

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Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

I want to thank Adrianna Wright at InterVarsity Press for sending me a courtesy copy of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John W. Walton.

Book Details:

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

John H. Walton

Intervarsity Press, July 2009

ISBN 978-0-8308-3704-5

Buy The Lost World of Genesis One @ Amazon

I’ve been making my way through my stack of books for review on Genesis in, essentially, reverse order of receipt. I’m glad I started on the top of the stack and not the bottom because I would have read The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton a year ago, and my reading of the other books would have been colored by my reading of this one.

As with many theological questions, I think we tend to develop a theological framework and then read scripture within that framework. It would be very easy to do that with The Lost World of Genesis One because Walton’s  propositions are extremely persuasive and his conclusions compelling.

And I in no way intend for this to be a slight, quite the opposite.

Walton organizes The Lost World of Genesis One into a series of eighteen propositions. Admittedly, as a former high school debater, I initially found Walton’s proposition approach somewhat irritating because the organization allows for little reader interaction. What I mean is that Walton breaks his thesis down into so many of its tiny component parts that there is little to no mystery. Again, this is not a slight on the book, it is a confession of my own predisposition to be intrigued by ideas more than details, and Walton constructs the larger idea one detail at a time. By the end of the book, my mind was changed about the effectiveness of the approach because Walton leaves little room for disagreement.

Walton’s initial assertions (and I’m paraphrasing his propositions), our reading of Genesis 1 in terms of material creation is wrong because Genesis 1 was never intended to describe material creation. Instead, Genesis 1 is meant to describe the function of God’s creation rather than the manner and means of creation.

Walton asserts the ancients would have thought and perceived Genesis 1 in terms of function rather than elemental material creation. Walton begins his function analysis using the example of the creation of a computer. When is a computer a computer? Each hardware component is manufactured, but until each component is brought together there is no computer. Software programs are written and installed, but without a power source the computer is not functional. Even with a power source, unless a person uses the computer it remains non-functional. Walton’s question is one of ontology. When does the computer exist? At what stage is the computer created?

Walton maintains that if we think of Genesis 1 in terms of assignment of function, not creation of the component parts, the questions relating to Genesis 1 and scientific accuracy become irrelevant.

We should not worry about the questions of ‘truth’ with regard to the Bible’s use of Old World Science. … Adoption of the framework of the target audience is most logical.

Using other ancient creation accounts as comparisons, Walton concludes that in the ancient world, to create something meant to assign it a function, not create its material properties.

Again I’m paraphrasing, Walton next determines that the creation account in Genesis 1 is a cosmic enshrinement. It is the creation of a cosmic temple suitable for God to take up residence. He terms this view the cosmic temple inauguration view.

Walton also views this reading of Genesis 1 as a literal reading, as it would have been understood in the ancient environment as opposed to a reading that requires reconciliation with modern science.

But most people who seek to defend a young-earth view do so because they believe that the Bible obligates them to such a defense. I admire the fact that believers are willing to take unpopular positions and investigate all sorts of alternatives in an attempt to defend the reputation of the Biblical text. But if the Biblical text does not demand a young earth there would be little impetus or evidence to offer such a suggestion.

Walton also spends a fair amount of time discussing competing creation theories, as does virtually everyone else, so I won’t here, but the excerpt above should fairly well sum up the author’s take on competing creation accounts.

I give Walton a lot of credit for bringing something new to the table (see also my review of The Genesis Enigma). As I’ve written before, the old methods of resolving the Genesis debate don’t work because the debate itself is pointless. And viewing Genesis 1 in terms other than purely scientific terms is certainly a more appropriate approach.

My only real criticism of The Lost World of Genesis One is that the author falls into the same trap as most by (1) entering the public policy debate in proposition 18 which will unnecessarily ostracize young-earth creationists and ID proponents, and to a lesser extent (2) crafting the cosmic temple inauguration view such that is excludes other possibilities. I acknowledge that in the author’s Q&A at the end he acknowledges that Genesis 1 could theoretically be both functional and material, but that we cannot demand such a reading. But Walton doesn’t embrace those possibilities.

Fortunately, my reading of The Lost World of Genesis One has coincided with my intensive study of related material, specifically the feasts of the Lord and the tabernacle (and later temple). And it makes perfect sense to me that the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle would reflect a cosmic temple. So, for that and many other reasons, I would highly recommend The Lost World of Genesis One. I am a slightly less inclined to accept the cosmic temple inauguration view as the theory of everything on Genesis, but it certainly adds another dimension to Genesis 1 that is worthy of study.

Read it and enjoy it!

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Guest Post on Monday Morning Review

Regular readers will know that from time to time I write my pastor’s Monday Morning Review on his blog of same name.

It’s typically a recap of the previous day’s sermon and the goings on of our church. However, all of you non-member, iPhone/smartphone users might be interested in my short list of free Bible apps (there’s 5 to be exact) about midway through the post.


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A Few Random Thoughts on Genesis

Many of you are aware of my preoccupation with Genesis. It is both a blessing and a curse, but a good kind of curse.

Said preoccupation, naturally, results in my reading a lot about Genesis. I am forever grateful to the publishers who have provided books for me to review at my request, and I am especially thankful to those who have taken the initiative to ask me to review books related to Genesis.

From much of this recent reading, several thoughts have emerged (most are obvious):

Efforts to reconcile the “creation” account in Genesis with “science” are futile, if fun to read. There is far too big a gap between the ancient Israelite culture and language and present-day Western culture and English to even know all that is meant by Genesis 1 & 2, much less prove what we cannot know. Absent a Mosaic or Pauline revelation from the Lord Himself (which I am still anxiously anticipating, whereafter I will immediately post all the answers), I’m afraid we will always be left wondering.

We shouldn’t stop wondering. The futility in seeking answers to ultimately unanswerable questions is no reason to stop asking. There are plenty of lessons to be learned short of, but probably more important than, the actual who’s, what’s, when’s and where’s (why’s deliberately excluded because we should know the why’s).

Fighting about it is also pointless. And we should stop that. Honestly, has anyone ever been converted by argument. Christian’s bashing anything or anyone acknowledging scientific evidence as such doesn’t help our cause.

No theory is exactly right, but maybe none of them are entirely wrong either. And isn’t that really the beauty of the Bible, generally, and Genesis, particularly. Do these ideas have to be exclusive of the others? Certainly not. The array of plausible ideas is perhaps the best evidence of a God worthy of our praise and His multi-dimensional Word worthy of our study.

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Book Review-The Genesis Enigma

I want to thank Liza Cassity at Penguin Group USA for the courtesy copy of The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate.

The Genesis Enigma

Book Details:

The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate?

Andrew Parker

Dutton (Penguin Group USA), October 2009

ISBN 9780525951247

Buy The Genesis Enigma @ Amazon

Regular readers are aware of my fascination with Genesis. I am, however, usually turned off by debate disguised as discourse about the “accuracy” of Genesis. The sides are typically well-defined, immovable,  and predictable. Andrew Parker’s take on Genesis 1 is anything but predictable.

I am also skeptical of claims that claim to prove this or that about Genesis. They rarely, if ever, deliver. In The Genesis Enigma, the author makes no such claims. Instead, he takes the creation account of Genesis 1 and compares it with the fossil record with enigmatic results.

In his words:

Here, then, is the Genesis Enigma: The opening page of Genesis is scientifically accurate but was written long before the science was known. How did the writer of this page come to write this creation account? (emphasis is the author’s)

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself by beginning with Parker’s conclusion. In his introduction, Parker outlines his thesis and makes the following comparison (edited for brevity):

Scientific History
Let there be light
The formation of the sun
Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let dry land appear…
The formation of the seas and separation of the land areas
Let the earth bring forth grass and herb yielding seed…
The beginnings of life, including single-celled photosynthetic organisms
Let there be lights…to divide the day from night
The first eye evolved and visual information used. Lights turned on for animal behavior and evolution (emphasis added)
Let the waters bring forth abundantly moving creatures that hath life…
The Cambrian explosion-evolution’s Big Bang. Exclusively marine life (emphasis added)
God created the great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly…
Large animals evolved in the seas (sharks and squid-like animals), and later conquered the land (emphasis added)
And every winged fowl after his kind…
Animals adapted to the vision of predators, except birds, which didn’t have to because of flight. It is fascinating that sea creatures and birds are singled out because they are the main characters and exceptions in evolutionary history (emphasis added)

Generally speaking, I think creationists, who I’ll call “old earth” for lack of a better term, accept some similar Genesis/evolutionary progression. What is unique about Parker’s assertion, and, in my humble opinion, scientifically revolutionary, is the light switch theory and the parallel between the evolution of the eye and “let there be lights…”

The light switch theory, in short, holds that the evolution of vision is what led to the Cambrian explosion (of aquatic life). Parker suggests, “The very first eye on earth effectively turned on the lights for animal behavior and consequently for further rapid evolution, while providing accurate recognition of night and day.” It’s an interesting correlation which Parker attempts to make. In fact, I would suggest his whole thesis depends on it.

Using these heretofore unmade correlations, Parker determines,

In essence, when the Biblical text is taken literally, it is left in the wake of advancing science. But when it is read figuratively, it not only keep pace with the hottest science, it precedes or heralds it.

The remainder of The Genesis Enigma tracks the creation account in Genesis 1 and the correlating fossil and evolutionary record. He concludes:

We have passed from the first stage in the creation account on the Bible’s opening page to the sixth, and found it all remarkably accurate, as if the modern scientific story of the universe and life were being narrated. I don’t know the odds against such a parallel-against making a successful guess at the scientific orthodoxy of three thousand years in the future from a knowledge base of nothing-but they must be extraordinarily long. As I first looked through this sequence of Genesis, I did not think that we could possibly reach the end of an impartial history of the universe and life without finding more than a few obstacles. I thought Genesis would fall at the first hurdle or two. I’m amazed that we have made it to the end unscathed.

It should be obvious, but if not I’ll mention that Andrew Parker, Ph.D., is a scientist, a research fellow at Oxford and a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. And as expected, the young-earth creationists/ID camp don’t buy it, but neither do the other guys (I read one reviewer who actually called this intellectual suicide, yikes!).

Honestly, I don’t understand the nature of the criticism. In the legal community, some judges hold to the theory that if both sides are upset, the ruling must have been fair. Such wisdom has limited application, of course, but this may be an applicable circumstance: since both opposing camps are critical of the book, perhaps the conclusions reached are fair. There’s no way to know if they are entirely accurate, but perhaps they are fair.

For example, Parker does not adopt or espouse a Judeo-Christian perspective, but he does conclude:

If my inference is right, then the writer of Genesis 1, or rather the announcer of the story-Moses-surely must have received divine intervention. That is to say, he must have been spoken to by God. I would argue that the Genesis Enigma, under this line of reasoning, becomes evidence for God.

Parker is cautious, however, in his approach and confesses that his conclusions took him by surprise. He also confesses:

But I must admit, rather nervously as a scientist averse to entertaining such an idea, that the evidence that the writer of the opening page of the Bible was divinely inspired is strong. I have never before encountered such powerful, impartial evidence to suggest that the Bible is the product of divine inspiration. The Genesis Enigma may provide us with support for this proposition on a whole new level.

This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Christian perspective, but it does cross invisible scientific barriers in an attempt to bridge the (perceived) gap between science and religion.

Parker succinctly characterizes the issue he presents:

The possible explanations for this parallel between the Bible and modern science are clear-cut: Either the writer of the creation account of Genesis 1 was directed by divine intervention, or he made a lucky guess.

One thing I must give Parker immense credit for is bringing something new (the light-switch theory vis-a-vis Genesis 1) to the table. I doubt Parker will change any minds that are firmly entrenched in one camp or the other, but he deserves additional credit for extending this olive branch to the competing sides, who have yet to realize there is no reason to compete.

The Genesis Enigma is certainly interesting, it is entertaining, and thought provoking. If you are at all interested in science/religion-related issues , I encourage you to read this book. If you are prone to offense when traditional interpretations of scripture are questioned, perhaps you shouldn’t.

Related Posts:

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Get Your Bible Study Tips Published

This seemed appropriate for my readers (from the Logos Blog):

Do you have some great Bible study tips that have helped you in your study of Genesis? We want to hear about them!

The theme of Bible Study Magazine’s November/December 2010 issue will be Genesis: Tower of Babel to Joseph. We want you to submit your best Bible study tips on Bible Study Magazine’s Facebook page. The best tips will be published in our two-year anniversary issue, Nov/Dec ’10!

I spend a lot of time in Genesis, as you may know, so I would also be interested in said study tips.

Good luck!

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Dissecting the James Dilemma-Part 1

I have spent enough time both in and out of the flock to know which Bible verses give believers fits, and James 2:14-26 probably tops the list:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James 2:14-26 (KJV)

I must confess, I’m not entirely sure I’ve heard a truly satisfactory reconciliation of this passage in James and Paul, specifically,  “Therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:28. I think the reason is because there is an attempted reconciliation where none is necessary.

Explanations usually begin with an acknowledgment of an apparent contradiction then employ circularity to explain why the two are not contradictory (e.g. the Bible cannot contradict itself, therefore there is no contradiction). Other explanations suggest James really means something other than what he is saying. These are equally problematic.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that all such explanations are necessarily aimed at an opposing logical fallacy, the straw man that the two are contradictory.

Paul clearly maintains that one is justified by faith, regardless of works. James clearly maintains that one is justified by faith and works. The assertion that these positions contradict each other is only valid if justification is a one-time event, and only a one-time event. If justification is both an event and a process, there is no contradiction.

Was Abraham justified by faith apart from works? Yes. Was Abraham also justified by his subsequent works? Yes.

To say that “faith without works is dead” means “faith alone is insufficient for justification” is simply a misunderstanding of the faith/works relationship. In James 2:22 he writes, “and by works was faith made perfect.” What came first? Faith, by which Abraham was initially made righteous. Then, works which worked to perfect that faith. Thus, Abraham was made righteous by his faith and continued to be made righteous by the perfection of his faith through works.

In Part 2, I will discuss the nature of works and whether any ol’ good works will do.

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Rethinking the Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ first sermon, The Sermon on the Mount, is probably the most famous sermon in history. We are all familiar with the first few lines:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Matthew 5 (NASB)

Toward the end of the sermon, Jesus says:

1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
2 “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7 (NASB)

Do the consequences sound familiar? Jesus also uses similar language in his last recorded teaching:

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
21 “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;
22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
23 “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people;
24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Luke 21 (NASB), and compare Matthew 24.

I have heard countless sermons on the various portions of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact,  I heard another brilliant one yesterday (I will link to it when it becomes active). And I was stirred to reread the entire Sermon on the Mount.

What struck me was something I had never seen before. The opening of Jesus’ ministry is a prophetic plea. Jesus is imploring his Jewish brethren to “get it,” and warning them of the consequences of not “getting it”: being trampled.

The Sermon on the Mount is indeed full of spiritual truths, sound advice for living, and a whole host of really cool things. It is also much, much more.

When I teach my public speaking class, one of the things I try and instill is that the audience needs to hear what’s being said three times: (1) tell them what you’re going to tell them, (2) tell them, and (3) tell them what you told them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins His public ministry by telling his audience what He’s going to tell them. Then he spends three years telling them. Finally, He is forced to conclude with a heart-breaking “I told them so.”

This is hardly a completed project, more of an infant idea. I just wanted to write it down for future reference (and if I had written it on paper or in a journal, I don’t know if I would ever find it).

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