As featured on the History Author Show: What does Christ have to do with Christmas Day?

24 December 2015

 

Christmas special banner

The following article by Amanda Read was originally published in some form at The Washington Times Communities.

Christmas Day is acknowledged and celebrated internationally. But its significance is not widely understood. Many words have been spent to explain, justify, excuse, or debunk the holiday by turns, with frequent arguments hinging upon the fear of tainting Christianity with paganism.

Traditionally, Christmas has been celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ, even though many educated people know that a variety of factors indicate that He was not actually born at that time. How did the excitement around December 25th originate, then? Was it a pagan festival later co-opted by intellectually and spiritually lazy Christians for who-knows-what-reason? Does celebration on December 25th originate from nothing more than adaptations of winter solstice festivals?

It would certainly be easy to accept these notions and move on. But history has a goldmine of information beyond that, and it would be a shame to miss out on it this season. This article will be a brief introduction to a sadly forgotten Biblical heritage.

Luke records little details in his volume of the Gospel which indicate when the Messiah entered the world. Luke was a scientific-minded Greek physician who began his record with the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting an elderly Jewish priest. Luke doesn’t describe him as a generic priest, however – but rather specifically as Zacharias of the division of Abijah. This detail is a time-marker, because each priestly division had particular times of the year at which to serve.

It is probable that as part of the eighth priestly division (1 Chronicles 24:10), Zacharias was serving during the month of Sivan (May-June), and since Elizabeth apparently became pregnant with John the Baptist shortly afterward (following Shavuot/Pentecost), we can understand the significance of what Luke wrote next.

When Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive the Messiah as a virgin, he encouraged her with this piece of personal evidence: Elizabeth (her aged and previously barren cousin) was six months along with a baby herself. That means that the Annunciation and Mary’s subsequent conception of Jesus (or Yeshua) likely happened in December.

Thus, the Light of the World became incarnate most likely during the winter Feast of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights. Although Hanukkah was a later Jewish festival that developed outside of the Torah, it has spiritual and political significance for believers and is mentioned in the Gospel (John 10:22).

The conception of Jesus Christ at Christmastime is a hypothesis further supported by the fact that nine months later is when the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot/Succoth) would take place. This occurred in autumn, a more reasonable time for the shepherds to be watching their flocks at night in those fields of Bethlehem that were acquired ages beforehand through the romance of Boaz and Ruth (King David’s great-grandparents).
Furthermore, since rabbinical evidence suggests that John the Baptist was born at Passover (Pesach) in the month of Nisan, it follows that Jesus Christ, who was six months younger, would be born six months later in the month of Tishri during Sukkot.

Sukkot was initiated in the Torah to commemorate the Israelites’ camping in sukkahs (booths) as they journeyed through the wilderness. But it was also a prophetic celebration that looked forward to the day when the Messiah “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Similarly, the feast of Passover is especially linked to milestones in Christ’s life – His crucifixion and resurrection.

Some Christians might find references to the Torah confusing and irrelevant because our Hebraic heritage is oftentimes mistakenly disregarded. However, Jesus Christ (the Greek variant of Yeshua Messiah) did not come to abolish the “Law or the Prophets,” but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). The New Testament is far easier to understand if it is read in the context of the Old Testament.

Both testaments are equally the Word of God and thus are written for all believers – and this offers insight into part of what sets the Bible apart from other religious writings. Despite its vast subject matter and timeframe, the entire Bible points to one character – Jesus – whom it defines as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

We have now seen that there is evidence that the month of December was the time at which Christ’s life on Earth began – at conception. But what is so special about December 25th, precisely? Where did the tradition of celebrating Christ’s birth and giving gifts on this winter day originate?

Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus (ca. A.D. 180 – ca. A.D. 250) is said to have been the first to claim that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. It turns out that Africanus might have had Jesus’ birthday confused with another prominent event in His life – the visit of the Magi, scholars and astronomers from Babylon who likely were intellectual descendants of the prophet Daniel.

How could following a star lead somebody to the location of the Christ child? In order to understand the star-gazing journey memorialized in Christmas songs and fashion, we have to once again look to the Old Testament.

The purpose of stars, planets, etc. was mentioned in the beginning – “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). The Scriptures say that the stars and constellations were named by the creator Yahweh, not by mankind (see Psalm 147:4, Job 9, Isaiah 40:26, and Amos 8) – although different cultures ascribe a variety of stories to these preformed patterns in the sky.

The heavens are telling the glory of GOD; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

The actual Hebrew words in those sentences that are often translated as “declaring” or “telling” are çâphar (ספד) and nâgad (נגד). The meaning of çâphar is “to score with a mark as a tally or record, i.e. (by impl.) to inscribe, and also to enumerate; intens. to recount, i.e. celebrate:-commune, (ac-) count, declare, number, + penknife, reckon, scribe, shew forth, speak, talk, tell (out), writer” (Strong’s Concordance).

We now know that the heavens contain a system so mathematically precise that you can fast forward and rewind an image of its motions with modern software. Researching independently, Frederick A. Larson discovered that a peculiar astronomical event happened in years 3 and 2 B.C. (see The Star of Bethlehem DVD).

After examining the Biblical text and ancient astronomical records, Larson deduced that the brilliantly bright “Star of Bethlehem” must have been an extremely rare triple conjunction of the planet Jupiter with the star Regulus.

Sure enough, astronomical software reveals that in the months leading up to December 2 B.C., this mysterious regal sign in the sky can be seen moving westward, evidently at the time the Magi were traveling toward Israel.

On December 25th, 2 B.C., the star (via retrograde motion) stopped right above the little town of Bethlehem. By then the wise men were staying in Jerusalem (just five miles north of Bethlehem), having recently consulted with King Herod. Matthew wrote that when the star stopped over Bethlehem, the Magi rejoiced, paid a visit to Mary and Joseph’s house, and gave little Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:9-11).

Thus, practically speaking, December 25th, 2 B.C. might have been the “first Christmas” – a day of gift-giving in honor of the arrival of the Messiah. Whether or not you believe in celebrating Christmas, it is nice to know December 25th’s place in history!

When Does a Baby’s Life Begin According to the Bible?

4 December 2015

Q. Does the Bible say that human life doesn’t begin until a baby draws its first breath, as Kermit Gosnell and others have asserted?

A. No. The Bible describes humans as living beings in the womb.

“If breath is the biblical measure for life, then anyone on a ventilator is biblically dead,” Dan Arsenault, creator of the television show Church for Skeptics, remarks to Live Action News. He continues:

Presumably the life that God breathed into Adam is not the same as Adam breathing it back, nor is there any indication that God breathes equally on every person born. Life in the womb does not require breathing. Life outside the womb does. Since when is the function of lungs the measure of life? Why not a functioning heart, or kidneys? I’m guessing that neither of those were functioning in Adam before God put life into the clay He had molded, either.

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (NASB). The Hebrew word used for “breathed” is נָפַח naphach, which in Strong’s Concordance means:

a prim. root; to puff, in various applications (lit., to inflate, blow hard, scatter, kindle, expire; fig., to disesteem): – blow, breath, give up, cause to lose [life], seething, snuff.

Furthermore, the word translated as “breath” in that passage is נְשָׁמָה neshamah, among the definitions of which is “divine inspiration, intellect, soul, spirit.”

These obviously indicate that something different from natural inhaling was happening. Yahweh expired some of His very own divine nature into the first human being, and that nature has been imparted to all of Adam’s descendants in our DNA. In Psalm 139, David famously describes personhood in the womb.

Some have mistaken Exodus 21:22 for not equivocating abortion with murder. A closer look at the original wording, however, indicates that the topic in that part of the law is premature birth, not miscarriage.

And when men fight, and they strike a pregnant woman, and her child goes forth, and there is no injury, surely he shall be fined. As much as the husband of the woman shall put on him, even he shall give through the judges. But if injury occurs, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, branding for branding, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22-25, literal translation)

The keyword there is יָצָא yatsa, “to bring or go out.”

But if there is any remaining doubt concerning where Scripture stands on the personhood and beginning of human life, the first chapter of Luke removes it. Elizabeth, six months pregnant with John the Baptist, felt him leap within her womb in response to the voice of Mary, who had just conceived Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Note: This article is an expansion upon an article Amanda Read wrote for Live Action News on September 29th, 2015, titled, “Gosnell believes the Bible excuses his infanticide.”

Name That Disciple! Judas? Thaddeus? Lebbaeus?

20 May 2015

Q. Matthew 10:3 names a particular disciple Lebbaeus Thaddeus, while the corresponding passage of Luke 6:16 names him Judas of James. Is this the same person? If so, who is he?

A. Yes. Judas “Lebbaeus” Thaddeus.

The presence of a disciple among the original twelve who is listed by various names in two different Gospel introductions has made some wonder what reason there is to believe that he is the same person in each account. Perhaps the question should be instead, what reason is there to believe he isn’t the same person?

Judas-Not-Iscariot is referenced in Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:16, John 14:22, and Acts 1:13. The only time he appears with a name other than Judas is in Matthew, when it is specified that his surname is Thaddeus but he is called “Lebbaeus” (Λεββαῖος), which in Greek is a word that has Hebrew roots and means “near to my heart.” Some interpret this to actually mean “with heart,” as in courageous. Evidently this was Judas’ nickname. The additional title “of James” indicates that he was brother of a man named James.

Study #4: The Nephilim

28 January 2013

By ERIC SIEVERS

Ever since I first read about the Nephilim when I was a teenager, I was always fascinated by them.  Indeed, the idea of a race of “Supermen” has always intrigued us, throughout history.  Achilles, Hercules, Arthur, Beowulf, Romulus and Remus are all examples of this.  The Nazi Germans were obsessed with it, and modern science to this day still strongly flirts with the idea of creating a “genetically perfect” super being.

So who, or what, were the Nephilim?  There is much controversy to this day regarding this question, as the Bible itself is very unclear about it.  Indeed, the Hebrew word itself, הַנְּפִלִ֞ים, or “han·nə·p̄i·lîm”, “The Nephilim”, is unclear, and has no approximate translation.  The King James Bible translates it as “Giants”, but most modern translations just use the Hebrew word.  The most likely origin of the word comes from the verb “Naphal” נָפַל “to fall”.  It also could mean: abandon, attacked, cast down, desert, defect, downfall, fail, felled, prostrating, or topple.  Nephilim are only mentioned 3 times in the Old Testament: Once in Genesis 6:4, and twice in Numbers 13:33.

So where did they come from?  Genesis 6 states that:  “1 When people began being numerous on earth, and daughters had been born to them, 2 the sons of God, looking at the women, saw how beautiful they were and married as many of them as they chose. 3 Yahweh said, ‘My spirit cannot be indefinitely responsible for human beings, who are only flesh; let the time allowed each be a hundred and twenty years.’ 4 The Nephilim were on earth in those days (and even afterwards) when the sons of God resorted to the women, and had children by them. These were the heroes of days gone by, men of renown.”

So they were sired by the mysterious “Sons of God” with human females.  Who were the Sons of God, or בְנֵי־ הָֽאֱלֹהִים, “ḇə·nê hā·’ĕ·lō·hîm”?  There are three schools of thought:

The first, held by Orthodox Jews to this day, is that the Sons of God were actually a class of nobility, who took common girls as concubines and begot the Nephilim.  But, in my view, this makes little sense.  Why should such offspring be supermen?

The second, held by some Christians (The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and notable historical figures such as St. Augustine, John Chrysostom, and John Calvin) holds that the Sons of God were of the line of Seth, and that the Daughters of Men were of the line of Cain.  In essence, the Nephilim were a result of the union of believers with unbelievers, or of Godly men with ungodly women (makes Benjamin’s recent post about marrying nonbelievers all the more terrifying).  Again, this seems unlikely in my view, as most children born today would fit this description, yet they aren’t super human.  Nor is it logical to assume that all of the descendants of Seth would be Godly, as Yahweh floods the Earth and kills all of them soon afterward.  Which brings us to the third, and most commonly accepted view in Christendom.

The Sons of God were angels.  This is supported by the fact that the Hebrew phrase for “sons of God” used in Genesis appears only 3 more times in the Old Testament, in Job.

“One day when the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan.” Job 1:6.

“Another day, the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh and Satan came with them too.”  Job 2:1

“What supports its pillars at their bases?  Who laid its cornerstone to the joyful concert of the morning stars, and unanimous acclaim of the sons of God?”  Job 38:6-7

From these descriptions in Job, it is very clear that the Bene Ha Elohim  are angelic beings, as they enter before God’s presence, and were present at the time of creation.   They could not be men, either of Seth’s line, or of some class of nobility.

As for the Nephilim themselves, Genesis 6 explicitly states that they existed after the events described there, which would mean that some of them either survived the flood, or more likely, others were born in the same manner after the flood.  Numbers supports this, by connecting them with the “giants” described by the scouts upon returning from Canaan.

Curiously, my New Jerusalem Study Bible has quite a bit to say about the Nephilim, or at least, the men who were assumed to be descended from them, and I included some of it below, with the cross references.

The Anakim, as also Emim, Rephaim, and Zamzummim (or Zuzim), Dt 2:10-11, 20-21; see Gn 14:5, are legendary names for the aboriginal inhabitants of Palestine and Transjordan.  These were identified with the fabulous Nephilim of Gn 6:4 or Giants of Nb 13:33, the raisers of megalithic monuments, see Dt 3:11.  In the days of Joshua, the Anakim still constituted an aristocracy in the highlands of Hebron and in the coastal region, Jos 11:21 seq.; 14:12-15; 15:13-15; 21:11.  The Rephaim persisted in the country known as Bashan, Dt 3:13; Jos 12:4 seq.; 13:12, while in Judea their memory was preserved in the Valley of the Rephaim, south-west of Jerusalem, Jos 15:8; 18:16; 2 Samuel 5:18.  David’s soldiers finished off the last descendants of Rapha, their eponymous ancestor, 2 Samuel 21:16-22; see 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.  The word repha’im later became a synonym for the ghosts in Sheol, see Jb 25:5 seq.; Ps 88:10; Is 14:9; 26:14, 19.

Study #3, Genesis 3 and Satan’s lie.

3 January 2013

By ERIC SIEVERS

“Ye shall not surely die.” One of my favorite quotes from the King James Bible, but also one that has confused me, because of the way it is translated. Every version of the Bible has this phrased differently. The NIV has it as ““You will not certainly die.” The NASB has it as ” “You surely will not die!” And my New Jerusalem Catholic Bible has it as ‘No! You will not die!”

But in English, “You will not surely die” and “You surely will not die” can have a subtle difference in meaning. The first could be interpreted as, “You could die, but it isn’t certain”, and the second is much more definite; death will NOT happen. The reason it confused me so was because I often wondered whether Satan was lying outright, or just trying to plant doubt in Eve’s mind by telling a half-truth. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because Satan deceived her and caused the fall, but it’s still fun to contemplate. So let’s look at the Hebrew:

The phrase in question is לֹֽא־ מ֖וֹת תְּמֻתֽוּן׃ or “lo mot tamut”. According to Strong’s Concordance, this is translated as “Not surely die”. A more literal translation of “mot tamut” is “Dying, you shall die”. Both words mean “to die”, but this phrase combines the infinitive absolute (mot), and the imperfect verb (tamut), thus adding emphasis, which is why mot (die) is translated into English as “surely” or “definitely”.

From what I can understand, by adding לֹֽא־ (no, or not) before “mot tamut”, the more accurate translation into English would be the more definite “surely not die” instead of the more ambiguous (but more literal) “not surely die”. Satan, therefore, wasn’t twisting words around, but was simply lying.

For reference, “mot tamut” occurs also in Genesis 2, 20, and 26. The phrase, or variants of it occur 49 times in the Old Testament.

Study #2, Luke 2:14

3 January 2013

By GRACE LEONA WORCESTER

Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

This familiar Christmas greeting has been written, read, sung, and heard by thousands of Christians throughout the generations. Today, I will challenge you to reconsider your understanding of this verse for the very simple reason that the above translation is not an accurate translation from the Greek. Here is the verse in Greek:

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

The translation error centers around the word εὐδοκίας. Prior to that word, the sentence is translated thusly: “Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace to men….” As you might have guessed, εὐδοκίας means “good will”. Since it is the last word in the sentence you might think that the sentence should read the same as the English version presented at the start of this post.

However, word order does not matter in Greek. Instead, the word order in the English is determined by the word ending in Greek. εὐδοκίας comes from the word εὐδοκία. The ending in our sentence is –ίας meaning that the word is in the genitive case. This basically means that the word is the object of a prepositional phrase. Translated correctly, the sentence would read in this way:

“Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace to men of good will.”

For the Greek to read in the English presented at the beginning of this post εὐδοκίας would have to be εὐδοκία. Using the -ία ending would put the word in the nominative case. This would make the word the subject of the sentence (or in this case the subject of the second independent clause in the sentence) on equal footing with the word εἰρήνη (peace) resulting in the translation “peace and good will to man”.

So why the discrepancy?

The answer is simple: there are just as many manuscripts utilizing the nominative as there are manuscripts utilizing the genitive case. However, textual criticism indicates that the genitive case translation is more correct than the nominative case translation. It is much more likely that over time the sigma (ς) at the end of the word was mistakenly dropped than that it was mistakenly added. This is made further probable by the interesting fact that sigmas (ς) were the final letter in so many words that scribes took to denoting them with a small dot similar to an apostrophe to speed the scribal process.

Therefore, the familiar Christmas card greeting is incorrect and the verse should be translated:

“Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace to men of good will.”

Having faithfully translated this verse for you, my readers, I leave you to decide: what are the theological implications?

Study #1 – Adam’s Exclamation

26 November 2012

By AMANDA READ

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” ~Genesis 2:23, when Adam first met Eve.

Dr. Hugh Ross once pointed out that in the literal Hebrew translation, the first recorded words of the first man on Earth were, “At long last! Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” as if he had been waiting forever, weary from sorting through and naming a host of animals, when he laid eyes on the first woman.

I took a look at the Hebrew words used in Genesis 2 in an interlinear Bible, where the literal translation is said to be “This now at last,” and the depth of the words used here is apparent. פּעםPa’am (#6470 in Strong’s Concordance, in the aforementioned passage it has ה at its beginning) has to do with a “beat” or “tap,” indicating time and movement, and the word pa’amah (#6471) which is also rooted in it means “‘now’ (this) or ‘time'”. Another word sharing this root is pa’amon (#6472), which means “a bell (as struck),” perhaps indicating an alarm.

Ultimately, it’s rather fascinating that a man who was essentially perfect and living in a perfect world with a perfect relationship with God still felt lonely until he was given a bride, isn’t it?

This origin of and reason behind the institution of marriage has symbolic implications for the relationship between Christ and the Church. While the enemy succeeded in separating mankind from the LORD through the Fall, he ironically provided a way for Christ and humanity to become even closer than they were before. Jesus Christ sought out His bride by becoming incarnate, both fully God and fully Man at the same time. Because of this, God and the Church are united as one, never to be separated:

“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” ~Ephesians 5:28-32.

 

Darwin: Defining the Origins Debate

7 July 2011

By AMANDA READ

Charles DarwinThe name Charles Darwin is virtually inseparable from the debate of origins. Even if his evolutionary hypothesis was unoriginal in itself, Darwin has proved to be the most effective (and thus most memorable) communicator of the concept. As a literary figure, Charles Darwin accelerates his proposition by defining the debate. Since the initial evolutionary model is more so a reinterpretation of observations in the natural world than an actual confounding discovery, monopolizing dialogue on the issue is understandably the smartest route to take while introducing a topic in the speculative Victorian era.

When analyzing the writings of Darwin, it is insightful to keep in mind that he has not been trained as a scientist, but as a clergyman. Darwin, as theology-student-turned-naturalist, writes to make disciples of his scientific “gospel”. He seeks common ground with readers by addressing them as co-observers, telling them “[w]e will now discuss,” “[w]e behold,” and “we often see” (1539) the struggle for existence and the minor changes within species that occur because of it. This easily comprehensible beginning sounds non-threatening enough, and offers a launching pad for a more radical extrapolation. “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone,” (1541) says Darwin, beginning the fifteenth chapter of The Origin of Species. This brush with religious sentiments is a hint of what Darwin uses to define the debate.

Like an astute lawyer preparing a case, Darwin anticipates what the opposing or skeptical arguments will be. He admits repeatedly what “may be asked” (1542, 1543), and insists that although he is “fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract,” (1542) he doesn’t expect to convince those naturalists who have far more experience than himself. It is interesting that Darwin, who has been called a humble researcher, acts submissive to the authority structure of scientific academia even as he subtly dismantles and refashions it. Immediately after acknowledging more experienced naturalists, he says that naturalists “endowed with much flexibility of mind” and perhaps “young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality” (1542) will be open to accepting his theory. Twelve years later, Darwin takes an even more assertive stance in The Descent of Man:

“The main conclusion arrived at in this work, and now held by many naturalists who are well competent to form a sound judgment, is that man is descended from some less highly organized form. The grounds upon which this conclusion rests will never be shaken…” (1546)

In other words, Darwin has concluded and now preaches that the debate has already been settled within science. The debate is now essentially defined as between the scientific and the non-scientific, the skeptical and the religious. This is where the awkward vacillations begin. Darwin thinks that the evolutionary explanation of mankind’s descent from apes may “be highly distasteful,” (1549) but tells his readers not to worry about it affecting religious views. Yet he also admonishes that it is “so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the ‘plan of creation,’ ‘unity of design’ &c.,” (1542). One is thus left under the impression that no competent scientist will disagree with Darwin, and that one’s religion must be reconciled with the evolutionary model if one intends to keep it. With unsettled aspects of the debate being mainly a problem of the non-scientific, Darwin ventures to seal his evidentiary theses with defenses of the propriety and superiority of man:

“For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper; or from that old baboon, who, descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs – as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.” (1549)

This appeal to progressive sentiments makes for a persuasive maneuver in cultural debate. Thomas Huxley gladly inherited Darwin’s pride in monkey heritage in the 1860 debate at Oxford. Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog,” is representative of a particular audience drawn to the evolutionary doctrine of origins. Darwin argues that evolution should make mankind feel noble, because man’s evolution to the “summit of the organic scale…may give him hopes for a still higher destiny in the distant future” (1549). This idea sounds absurdly fanciful to some, but is readily embraced by others, especially disillusioned thinkers who want a void in their lives to be filled with meaning. Darwin essentially fills this void by deflating it – if there is no intricate plan for the universe, and thus no individual plan for our lives, there is therefore no need of salvation except by man’s own power and struggle for survival.

The premise of Darwin’s The Origin of Species is that the observations he made initially in the Galapagos might shed some light on that “mystery of mysteries” – the origin of species. Judging from this inquisitive approach it becomes more apparent what sort of audience this book will appeal to. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible are not likely to find the origin of species to be a “mystery of mysteries,” because the Bible offers the explanation that God created every living thing according to its kind. But skeptics who are disheartened towards or doubtful of the existence of God will immediately feel a kinship with the author.

Notice, however, that Darwin is careful not to dismiss God entirely. Whether or not he still personally believes in “the Creator” he mentions, or is merely trying to sound culturally acceptable is not immediately apparent. But Darwin does make the well-known Creator of the Bible seem less likely, because the evolutionary model diminishes the role of a designing God. In light of this conclusion, the references to “the Creator” sound equally diminished. Perhaps Darwin is willing to use them as a sort of classical idiom, just as the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses are utilized by poets and lyricists. He also refers to man’s “godlike intellect” and “exalted powers” (1549), which shows how difficult it is for even the most secular author to avoid communicating with religious connotations.

Viewing the origins debate as an issue of limited dimensions has been a fashion of the past century, with a tacit aspect of culture being to not bother questioning scientists unless one is prepared to reconcile their religious views. The success of the evolutionary model may be credited to Darwin’s success at compartmentalizing the issue between those working in the field of science and those who are not. This makes evaluating Charles Darwin as a literary figure an intriguing venture. It is surprising to find that the roots of the debate are just as (if not more) metaphysical and emotional as they are scientific.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume E: The Victorian Age. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton 2006. 1539-1545.

Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume E: The Victorian Age. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton 2006. 1546-1549.

~~~

This essay was written for an English Literature class in Spring 2010.  Yes, there were all those exciting poets and novelists to choose from, and I found myself writing about Charles Darwin.  Sad, isn’t it?  My professor responded with:

“This essay gives a very effective analysis of Darwin’s rhetorical strategies. I don’t know that his tone of humility is disingenuous. Maybe he felt genuinely awed and humbled when he realized the implications of his discovery. Rather than sounding combative or exasperated, his tone is usually patient. (But note the cultural prejudice in his grimly comic description of savages.) Shelf after shelf in the basement of Candler theological library at Emory is filled with Victorian tomes attempting to reconcile religion and Darwinism. Somebody should read them all and write a dissertation.”

May I take a hint?  I’d love to go to England anyway.

~Amanda~

Revelation

24 March 2011

The Bible Comprehension series will be an ongoing study of different books of the Bible. What is the Bible, and how do we know if it is fictional or nonfictional?

UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

  • It is the final book of the Bible.
  • It is the only book of the Bible that states that the reader and believer of it will be blessed (Revelation 1:3, Revelation 22:7).

HISTORY

The book of Revelation (or Apokalupsis, Greek for “unveiling”) is the record of a vision that the Apostle John received on the Isle of Patmos circa A.D. 95. While the Old Testament described and foretold the events leading to the First Coming of Christ, the New Testament described Christ’s time on earth and foretells the events leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.

The Bible explains that there is a spiritual enemy who is known among other titles as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and was given legal right to oppress the present world when Adam and Eve committed treason (Genesis 3). This spiritual despot’s authority was devastated when Jesus Christ (Yeshua Messiah) fulfilled the highest level of reparation imaginable (John 19:30). As the revolution draws near to completion, Satan is permitted to use his last days of power to seek out for his own state all who do not want to be citizens of the kingdom established by Christ.

Not surprisingly, the devil does not relinquish his temporary power over the world easily. Thus, as time draws near to the Messiah’s return and consummation of power, the more hostile the atmosphere becomes because it means the adversary’s time limit is almost up. Jesus Christ compared it to sensing changing seasons of the year, but warned that no one knows the “day or hour” that the end of this world as we know it will come (Mark 13:29-37).

LITERARY STYLE

THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF “RIDDLES”

The symbolism of Revelation and other parts of Scripture may seem nonsensical until one is able to comprehend the physical (yes, even scientific) manifestation of signs. According to the Bible, the messages of Scripture are woven into the framework of the universe and are thus comprehensible by those who pay attention.

For a start, examine the heavens to behold a system so mathematically precise that you can fast forward and rewind an image of its motions with modern software.

“The heavens are telling the glory of GOD; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.” (NASB)
~ Psalm 19:1-4

The actual Hebrew words in those sentences that are often translated as “declaring” or “telling” are çâphar (ספד) and nâgad (נגד). The meaning of çâphar is

“to score with a mark as a tally or record, i.e. (by impl.) to inscribe, and also to enumerate; intens. to recount, i.e. celebrate:-commune, (ac-) count, declare, number, + penknife, reckon, scribe, shew forth, speak, talk, tell (out), writer.” Strong’s Concordance.

Ah, doesn’t that sound astronomical?

The word çâphar is the same word used in Job 12:8, 28:27 (“Then He saw it and declared it; He established it and also searched it out”), 1 Chronicles 16:24, Psalm 78:6 (“That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children…”) and many other verses.

The meaning of nâgad is

“to front, i.e. stand boldly out opposite; by impl. (causat.) to manifest; fig. to announce (always by word of mouth to one present); spec. to expose, predict, explain, praise:-bewray, x certainly, certify, declare (-ing), denounce, expound, x fully, messenger, plainly, profess, rehearse, report, shew (forth), speak, x surely, tell, utter.” Strong’s Concordance.

The word nâgad is used in Genesis 41:24 (when Pharaoh told Joseph about his dream, “I told it to my magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me”), Esther 4:8, Job 31:37, Isaiah 3:9, 21:6, 41:22 (“Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce what is coming…”), and many other passages.

Read Psalm 19 with this fuller understanding of the beautiful Hebrew words çâphar (ספד) and nâgad (נגד) and no longer does it simply mean that the starry sky is an impressive display to reflect GOD’s glory. The celestial bodies have been placed there with a mission to communicate and verify the entire saga of salvation.

“Then GOD said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years…'”
~ Genesis 1:14

The Hebrew word in that passage often translated as “signs” is ‘ôwth (אות), which means

“a signal (lit. or fig.), as a flag, beacon, monument, omen, prodigy, evidence, etc.:-mark. miracle, (en-)sign, token.” Strong’s Concordance

Remember that YAHWEH named the stars, not man (see Job 9 and Amos 8 ) – different cultures have told stories to go along with the stars, but they haven’t changed the names and their meanings.

Now, recall the great sign that appeared in heaven in Revelation 12 about the woman clothed with the sun; the moon at her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head.

From the research website of Frederick A. Larson:

“The Jewish nation is composed of twelve ancient tribes. Jewish prophecy states that a particular tribe will bring forth the Messiah: the tribe of Judah. The symbol of Judah’s tribe is the lion. You can see these connections in an ancient prediction of Messiah’s coming found in the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 49:

9 You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness– who dares to rouse him? 10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

This association of Messiah with the tribe of Judah and with the lion is a productive clue. It clarifies the connection between Jupiter’s behavior and the Jewish nation, because the starry coronation—the triple conjunction—occurred within the constellation of Leo, The Lion. Ancient stargazers, particularly if they were interested in things Jewish, may well have concluded they were seeing signs of a Jewish king. But there is more.

The last book of the New Testament is, in part, a prophetic enigma. But a portion of the Book of Revelation provides clear and compelling guidance for our astronomical investigation. The apostle John wrote the book as an old man while in exile on the island of Patmos. Perhaps the austerity of this exile or a lack of companionship left him time to ponder the night sky. Whatever the reason, Revelation is full of star imagery. In Chapter 12, John describes a life and death drama played out in the sky: the birth of a king.

1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre…

A woman in labor, a dragon bent on infanticide and a ruler of the nations. We have already seen this ruler in the Book of Genesis, above. This would be the Messiah, in his role as King of Kings. If that interpretation is correct, then according to the gospel story the woman would be Mary, the mother of Jesus. The dragon which waits to kill the child at birth would be Herod, who did that very thing. John says the woman he saw was clothed in the Sun. She had the moon at her feet. What can he be describing? When we continue our study of the sky of September of 3 BC, the mystery of John’s vision is unlocked: he is describing more of the starry dance which began with the Jewish New Year.

As Jupiter was beginning the coronation of Regulus, another startling symbol rose in the sky. The constellation which rises in the east behind Leo is Virgo, The Virgin. When Jupiter and Regulus were first meeting, she rose clothed in the Sun. And as John said, the moon was at her feet. It was a new moon, symbolically birthed at the feet of The Virgin.

The sheer concentration of symbolism in the stars at this moment is remarkable. These things could certainly lead our magus to conclude that a Jewish king had been born. But even this is not the whole story. These symbols could indicate a birth, but if they were interpreted to indicate the time of conception, the beginning of a human life, might there be something interesting in the sky nine months later? Indeed. In June of 2 BC, Jupiter continued the pageantry…”

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[DEVELOPING…]

How Many Valiant Men Drew the Sword for Israel as Counted by Joab?

22 March 2011

Q. How many valiant men drew the sword for Israel as counted by Joab?
A. Joab concluded that 1,100,000 men of Israel drew the sword – 800,000 of which were “valiant”.

If we go by the verses cited as contradictory, that seems to be the obvious answer.

“And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.” (2 Samuel 24:9)

“Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword.” (1 Chronicles 21:5)

The record of the men of Judah was simply rounded to the nearest hundred thousands’ place by the author of 2 Samuel, but recorded more precisely by the chronicler of 1 Chronicles.

Sounds too simple to be an explanation for a supposed Bible contradiction, doesn’t it? Well, maybe that leaves us some time to study Occam’s Razor

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