On Bible Translations

Most people either think too much about which translation of the Bible to use or don’t think about it at all; I fall into the former group. In High School, I pretty much only knew of two translations – the New International Version, which seemed to be a standard, and then the old King James. Sometime in college, I also found out about the New Living Translation. I don’t think I dug into the differences or philosophies of translations until around my mid to late 20’s, when I started trying to take studying the Bible seriously. I assumed the best thing to do was to get the ‘most accurate’, which actually the original languages, but most people mistakenly believe is the ‘most literal’. This led me to the New American Standard Bible, which I rarely used after reading. I was also my foray into Study Bibles (more on that in a later post), specifically the Apologetics Study Bible, where I ended up with the Holman Christian Standard Bible (they have since dropped the Holman). I actually really liked this translation, but the truth is, I only ended up with it because it was cheaper than some of the others. Joining a PCA church in 2012, the standard seemed to be the English Standard Version, which is what my current church uses exclusively. A few years later (with a few more study Bibles) and I realized, I don’t really like the ESV. So, right now, I’m in the market for a new (non-study) Bible, and I’m unsure which translation I may buy. I’ve also considered writing a short series on Bible study, one on translations, Study Bibles, and Commentaries; so I guess now is as good a reason as any.

You may have some awareness, as I did years ago, that some some translations are more literal and some just try to give the general idea (there are also paraphrase, but I get into that later). The terms most often used are formal equivalence and dynamic (sometimes called functional, because alliteration helps to confuse people) equivalence. People also like to call this word for word vs. thought for thought. Now, there really is no such thing as literal, as Greek/Hebrew word order doesn’t match English, or sometimes words do not have a clear translation (which is why there are so many). So, some work is needed to make it readable. The readability is often the reason given for moving from word for word. There is also the issue of idiom. If I said ‘his nose was red’ or ‘their teeth will be clean’ or Samaritans don’t share pottery with Jews, you probably don’t know what that means in English. Now, if I said, ‘her belly was enlarged’, you might realize it means pregnant. So, how should translate the idiom ‘literally’. You could use the old language, you could try a more modern one, like ‘with child’ (which just sounds weird), or maybe ‘she was showing’. Or just say pregnant.

Two other issues in translation are reading level (compare to grade level) and what I’ll call churchyness (or using poetic/odd/archaic language, just because it ‘sounds’ right). Grade level is an important consideration. If you have a middle-schooler, someone who doesn’t like to read, or someone who’s first language is not English, something like the NASB or NRSV, 11th and 10.5, respectively, might not be helpful (let alone the King James). Similarly, if you find the Old Testament confusing, trying the NLT (6.5) may be helpful. I think this is an often overlooked matter when people do look for translations and ‘readability’. Though, generally speaking, the more thought for thought, the easier it will be to read. Churchyness would is typically going to fall into the idiomatic issues I mentioned above, like ‘with child’, others include – lead us not into temptation, or valley of the shadow of death, or darkness is my only companion – when those are more familiar or ‘sound right’, while not being the best translation. These are the issues that come with translation of any kind. I found this chart here, which also has other valuable charts and comparisons.

Briefly, I want to hit a few stats for you, then go into what I consider to be the five main translations, and then two other popular ones that are just bad, and you probably shouldn’t use them. Like many things, the answer to which is the most popular translation will vary depending on who (and how) you ask. In my moderately reformed world, ESV is about all there is. However, it is rarely used outside of the US. If you asked English speakers, my guess would be that NRSV would be by far and away the most known, as it is authorized by the Catholic and Anglican churches; as well as just about the only translation used in scholarship. For America, The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University and Purdue University asked American’s which Bibles they read and it found King James was first at 55%, NIV (19%), NRSV (7%), New American Bible (6%), The Living Bible (5%) as the top five with all others equaling about 8%. I am skeptical about the methodology, but that is beyond the scope of what I want to discuss here.

My main focus is American Evangelicalism, which is also the group that uses the widest variation, so I will give you a few stats from them. That National Association of Evangelicals asked their members for their preference, and the top five were the NIV (39%), NASB (20%), ESV (13%), NKJV (9%), and NLT (7%), with all others being under 2%. Thom Schreiner has an interesting article about the change from 2011 to 2020, as reported by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. The NIV and KJV reamined 1 and 2. The NLT moved from 4 to 3, the ESV moved from 5 to 4, the NKJV dropped from 3 to 5. Other notes in the top 10, the H/CSB stayed at 6 both times, the Reina Valera (RV, a Spanish language Bible) went from unranked to 7, which is kind of cool, and the NASB dropped from 7th to 10th.

You’ll notice below my big five doesn’t necessarily line up with the most used, but I will explain why in each, and then hit on two others that are worth noting. However, all seven are in the top lists (depending on definition). In each section, I will list the acronym, link to the Wiki article, which is actually pretty good for history and overview, then the reading level, then I will jump into why the translation is important and my general thoughts. Since this is how so many people think in terms of how to pick, I will start with the most word for word and move to the most thought for thought.

New American Standard Bible (NASB, History, 11) – This is the most word for word of the 25 or so most popular translations (there is one or two more ‘literal’, but they are hard to find and you won’t see them published from major groups or used in any study Bibles). I’ve heard this is considered the ‘academic’ version for conservative scholars. This translation can be valuable for study, especially if you are trying to get to the most literal version. However, as an everyday reader or devotional, I think it would be tough. It is a hard read (rated hardest to read from one site I found), and has the second highest ‘grade’ rating of all major translations (King James is higher, more on that below). It is generally considered a good version for conservative Evangelicals.

English Standard Version (ESV, History, 7) – This is the one I have the most familiarity with and the one that seems to be gaining in popularity the most. They refer to themselves as ‘essentially literal’. It seems that they are almost as word for word as the NASB, but tries to keep some of the churchyness of the King James. For me, that makes it even clunkier to read than other translations. I don’t like archaic language mixed with literal approach. The readability suffers from this approach, though the level isn’t that high.

Outside of that, my major issue is the amount of harmonization that occurs in the translation (which is kind of the opposite of ‘literal.’ I won’t go much into it here, but if you compare something like Kings vs. Chronicles, or Paul’s conversion accounts in the ESV to other translations, you’ll notice that it doesn’t match often. This is because the translators specifically chose to change the meaning from the Hebrew and Greek for theological reasons or for fear of ‘contradictions’ in the Bible.

This is considered a good version for people who are moderately reformed. People will also point positively and negatively that it is good for complementarians. It is also a common choice in conservative Evangelical churches.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, History, 10.5) – I am probably the least familiar with this version, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in a church setting. I do have one copy and have to say, I think it is the best in terms of readability. It is a little more thought for though than the ESV (both versions are revisions to the RSV of the 70’s, with something like 96% agreement between), but still ‘essentially’ literal. It also drops old idioms and uses modern English. It is often attacked for being ‘liberal’ due to be being the standard in Mainline denominations and academia.

It is the also the only major version that was ecumnical in the translation committee, having ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ Protestants, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish members. Due to this, it is pretty straight reading (in some ways more ‘literal’ in the sense that it may be closer to the actual words of the text) because there was no dominating theological bent (this also explains it’s use in academia). It is famously criticized for translating ‘young woman’ in Isaiah. However, that is what the Hebrew says. Interestingly, the LXX (pre-Christian Greek vision of the OT) translates to virgin in Greek. But if you are truely after the most accurate, then ‘young woman’ seems to be what the text calls for. I won’t get much into the ‘gender language’ issues here (nevermind, a few notes below).

I’ve read more than a few people say they wish the ESV was just a reorientation of the theological bend of the NRSV, because, well, they wanted a conservative translation, but also because it has superior readability. This versions is generally considered good for everyone except conservative Evangelicals (not that it is bad for us), though you can find quite a few conservative study Bibles that use this text (though not nearly as many as the ESV or King James).

New International Version (NIV, History, 8) – Many consider this to be the true mid-point on the word for word and thought for thought spectrum. It is a little newer than the NASB, but with far superior readability, which was why it because the stand replacement of the King James in most Evangelicals circles. While they harmonize Paul like the ESV, there are at least footnotes explaining the original Greek. They do not harmonize Kings/Chronicles, but instead note the apparent contradictions, which I find to be a far better treatment than simply change the words of scripture out of fear. They do make a few odd choices, especially in Timothy regarding the husband of one wife, which the translate as being faithful to one’s wife. I guess the translation committee considered this to be the thought (interestingly the NRSV says married only once). This is considered a good translations for conservative Evangelicals, but with broader theology than the ESV.

New Living Translation (NLT, History, 6.5) – I was actually a little surprised to see this make so many top five list. I actually really like it. It is the newest (including updates) of the ‘living’ or ‘modern’ English, though I believe it is an older translation than all the above. It is probably the premier example of a thought of thought translation, it is certainly the best one, in my view. At a sixth grade level, it is also one of the simplest to read and usually ranks as one of the easiest to read. It is great for middle/high schoolers and new Christians. I actually use it often for Old Testament readings, and I recommend it to people trying to read the prophets or Job. They also have a few of my favorite OT scholars, at least one of whom is an expert in Hebrew poetry. Relatedly, as they aren’t going word for word, they have more leeway to be poetical in the Psalms and Wisdom literature. You can find many good study Bibles that use this, but not many in depth or scholarly ones. People seem to be torn whether this is considered good for study or not, but most people find it valuable for devotion or day to day reading. You won’t like it if you want ‘literal’ or disagree with the translation philosophy. It is generally considered good for conservative Evangelicals, and like the NASB or NIV, there isn’t a particular theological bend.

I want to briefly mention two other versions that I think you should avoid, the King James and the Message. First, the King James (KJV). I was surprised to see how popular this still is. It is a version to avoid for two reasons – the language is hundreds of years old, and it is not based on the best available copies. The grade level is actually 13, because you are essentially reading Shakespeare’s English. I know that is the appeal to some people, and if that is you, then this might be a good supplement, but updated language is needed. Not only do some of the words not exist anymore, but in some instances words have completely different meanings than they did, rendering the text inaccurate. There are also many mistranslations due to lack of knowledge of the original languages, especially Hebrew (there are Unicorns in the Psalms). Some KJV only people will tell you that it is based on the best text. This is patently false, and no scholars agree; no other translations use the Greek text used (all the above use the same as each other, as this is the consensus among everyone except KJV only people). There are so many better options, please choose one.

The Message is not a translation, it is a paraphrase and one not meant to be scholarly or accurate in anyway. Paraphrase is well past the thought for thought concept. No scholar or pastor would recommend using this as your everyday reader, not even the translator. You are basically getting one guy’s thoughts on how to paraphrase what he things one verse means to him. If you are curious, it is written at a third grade level. I have heard a few people say this could be helpful in study, but only if viewed/used as something like a commentary. It is not an accurate example of the Bible. If you don’t like reading or are looking for a simple version, please do not choose this, use the NLT.

Hope this was helpful. I’d love to hear from anyone on which versions they prefer and why.

You can see the chart below for more translation philosophy/comparisons. You can also go here and here for more comparisons/summaries of different translations. I did go too much into the ‘gender neutral’ controversy, mostly because I think it is pretty overblown. For one, people were really mad in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but even the ESV uses some ‘gender inclusive’ language now, so, to some extent it has blown over. I’m fine with ‘brothers and sisters’ when it is a group, especially as we know it was read to everyone, and even within some letters there are specific call outs to men, and then also to women’. Something like teach your ‘children’ instead of ‘son’, also makes sense in light of modern English. I don’t have that particularly liberal, and more to the point, find the harmonizing mentioned above to be more egregious. I won’t say any more about that, but Bill Mounce has a good article on it, plus a note on literalism.

Edit: I forgot to mention another issues I have with literal or churchyness, using old measurements. I cannot understand how or why, in modern English, we’d use cubits and baths instead of feet and gallons (or meters and liters, for the rest of the world). Similarly, saying the 6th hour, instead of around noon. Those on the more word for word side should at least translate in footnotes, i.e. ‘9 feet’, not ‘a cubit is roughly 18 inches’; the worst are those that give no conversion metrics. Thought for thought versions tend to translate to modern measures and footnote the original.

Book Review: Learning to Love the Psalms

Learning to Love the Psalms

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Medium read (can get slightly technical), moderate length (250+)

Summary: Godfrey takes a different approach than most books on the Psalms. Instead of looking into categories of Psalms, he studies them in their original five ‘books’, and looks for similarities within each ‘book’; plus he breaks out the final five Psalms and treats them separately from the other five books.

There are no chapters in  this book, but there are seven broad sections. After a large intro section that includes chapters introduction the Psalms, poetry, difficulties, speakers, and structures, there are the five sections (one each on the five ‘books’), a section on the final five Psalms, and a short afterward. Each section has chapter on the structure and character of the ‘book’, followed by a mini-commentary on six or seven of the Psalms in the ‘book’. The final section has a brief intro chapter, then reviews each of the last five Psalms. 

My Thoughts: He has attempted a relatively difficult task in trying to find the original reason for the groupings in each book. I appreciate what he has done, and I think his work is the best I’ve seen that doesn’t use the typical category/genre, but I remain unconvinced. It is a fascinating way to try to study the Psalms and as modern western people, we really want a reason for the layout of the Psalms. He makes the most compelling argument I’ve seen, but as I said, I’m not entirely convinced. 

The other oddity of this book is his mini-commentary on numerous Psalms. These just didn’t land correctly. Some were a little academic, some were devotional, others were likely draw from sermons (as they point to Christ in our life now, in an application way), the remaining was a mix of all these. While they were mostly good, and all educational, the inconsistency bothered me. This could have been an editorial decision, to lay out his notes this way, but it should have been a bit more focused. 

For these reasons, this book would not be the first I would recommend if you wanted to start a study on the Psalms. That being said, the intro section was quite valuable. The chapter on difficulties in the Psalms was particularly valuable. Likewise, the chapter on ‘recurring themes’ functioned as a mini-lesson with a different take than the most usual genre discussions. The structure and character chapters are interesting, but how much you gain from those will be dependent on how strong you find his overall argument. Outside the intro, the final five Psalms section is probably the best, as it is a very clear division and we know much of how these particular Psalms have been used throughout history. Overall, a good book, written well, and if you are looking to dig into the Psalms and are purchasing multiple books for your study, this is one to put on your list. 

 

 

 

On Inerrancy and Literal Interpretation.

A while ago, I wrote a review on Five View on Biblical Inerrancy, which is a book I cannot recommend enough. It had been on my list for quite some time, and I just never got around to it. I really wish I had read it earlier, because the mainstream Evangelical framework for reading the Bible is shaped by Inerrancy far more than you may think. It isn’t even really just inerrancy, but instead, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. The issue with this statement is that it isn’t as natural as it appears to be, and doesn’t just defend the Bible, it pushes a very specific hermeneutic framework and interpretation. Specifically, what some call ‘literalistic’ or ‘literalism’. This is the overly literal view of scripture, that is taking it ‘literally’ even when the text may not call for it. 

That was the defensive cry I heard most of my Christian life, ‘I take the Bible literally.’ It was supposed to be a short, definitive statement about your Biblical beliefs. I certainly took the statement seriously, but it wasn’t until I was probably 30 that a pastor asked me, ‘how do you take poetry literally?’. Depending on how you count it, between a quarter and a third (or even more) of the Bible is poetry. I had never really thought about that; and of course, most of the poetry is in the Old Testament, which is usually skimmed or skipped by Evangelicals. 

It seems that the fight over ‘literal’ mostly comes as a response to the overwhelming evidence of the fact that the universe is billions of years old and that evolution is true. Some defenders of the Chicago statement, which is Mohler in the book, point out that the statement says, ‘rightly interpreted,’ which gives room for different interpretations of chapters/verses such as Genesis 1. However, it goes on to say that science cannot overturn scripture. I can’t think of a clearer signal to say, you must interpret Gen 1 (please don’t ask about Gen 2, which doesn’t match creation order of Gen 1) as straight literal than that. Mohler can act like a politician and point to the statement, but when see a book/article/podcast/video with something like this in the title- ‘are science and the Bible in conflict?’, you know exactly what they are talking about. So, embedded in the statement is the interpretive framework. For good reason, Mohler’s article was criticized by all the other authors for arguing inerrancy of his interpretation. 

But he wasn’t really wrong, in a sense, as he is only conveying the message of the statement. The issue for us today, is how the statement was used and pushed and trickled down to all of us in the pews, because it tied a particular view to inerrancy, and inerrancy was view as protecting the Bible, and even more so, God himself. As Mohler points out, when the Bible speaks, God speaks. This is absolutely true, I believe this, as do most Christians, but you can see through the simple flow of thought, that if you don’t interpret passages a certain way, then you don’t believe in God. It looks something like this: a particular interpretation – that interpretation as implied by the Statement – inerrancy as a concept – the writers who were inspired by God – God Himself speaking – the goodness, omnipotence, etc of God; so that a particular interpretation equals belief in God. I don’t know if this was the original intent of the authors of the statement or just how it ended up being abused. 

The damage of literalism cannot be overstated. It is something I really wish people cared more about, unfortunately, it often seems that people have to leave the Evangelical work entirely, before they can say much about it. Or maybe they left because of it, and then write about it. The biggest problem, is it really is fear based. Fear is a pretty big motivator for most people, but it appears to be the easiest way to get Evangelicals to move on something. We’ve seen this in politics, with devastating effect, for decades, but rapidly accelerated over the past five or so years. We see it in the attack on public school and education in general. But our fear for the Bible and God is not necessary. We can’t protect them, nor need we to do so. When we try, we end up putting them in small boxes of protection that leads us to weak faith. 

Fighting for a particular view of inerrancy comes from the fear that if one thing is ‘wrong’ then the whole Bible is wrong, and we need to throw it out. To me, that is an incredible weak faith. There seems to be a fear that if you admit that ancient writers believed the world was covered in a dome, that we have to abandon the resurrection. As if we should only believe God if the Bible is written and read like a factual report coming in from the AP wire. To not admit the different (non-modern) views of the authors, or that scribes could err seems ridiculous. Especially, when we know there are essentially typos (actually, transcription) errors in our manuscripts. Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:7 for example, about half say infant, the other half says gentle; clearly one of them is an error (though it really doesn’t change much, see my study notes here). Other prominent examples included the longer ending of Mark or the extra few lines of the Lord’s Prayer, both of which have since been thrown out in most translations.

That brings us to the ‘autograph’ argument, which says the Bible is inerrant in the original documents. It is used in some ways as an argument against in perceived errors or contradictions. We can just wave them away and say that out there, in some unknown (and unfindable) document rest the fix to all that ails. It, again, is just a reach for the hope that God must have, at some point, given us a perfect (in our modern sense) document. We know that it is not perfect, and even if we were given something that was, you would still have to question why God would allow it to become ‘corrupted’. Right? This is another error in thought that comes from literalism, that the book was just handed to us and God isn’t really involved anymore and allowed issues to happen so that we, in some senses, most not really know what is happening now. Alternatively, isn’t it possible that God used imperfect people, who existed in a world different than our own, but then actually intervened in the millenia so that we have a Bible today that pretty well reflects the original writing?

Of course, the other issue is that some ‘errors’ aren’t really errors, or conflicts.  Is the Bible in error or in conflict with science the world was created in a literal, 24 hour, six day sequence? No, because, that isn’t what the Bible is trying to say in Genesis 1. But that is really the problem with literalism, we’ve put ourselves into a tiny box that leads to odd interpretations or readings or understandings of part of the Bible. The sub-title of one Enns’ books points to the problem well: Our obsession with defending the Bible has left us unable to read it. I want to talk about a few specifics, then probably wrap up.

I was thinking about this yesterday while listening to a sermon on Proverbs at my church service. He points out what Proverbs is (are), that they are wisdom, not promises. That was probably a shock to some people, but as he rightly pointed out, how many children have been ‘raised as they should go’, but left the ‘path’? I know people in the fundamentalist world that have this transactional view of God, if I do X, God should do Y. However, if we read the Bible as a collection of different genres (still, all inspired by God, that is not something I doubt/reject) with different purposes, we might not need a preacher to explain that wisdom poetry is not a literal, transactional promise. However, this is the clear consequence of  ‘taking the Bible literally’. 

I’ve said/written much on Genesis and the age of the Earth/evolution question over the last few months, which I won’t repeat here, you can go watch this video and/or read the notes underneath. I will point out that the overly literal (again, in our modern western version) has had two negative impacts. One is that people will just leave the church altogether, they go to college or read a book and see the fact of evolution and then throughout the whole Bible, because that is the weak faith with which they’ve been conditioned. Second, they reject science in some whole disciplines. Of course, all of us believers reject some level of science, but we have a name for that – miracles. Science says you can’t be born of a virgin, yeah, we know, thank God for the Incarnation. Science says you can’t be resurrected, again, yeah, that is why it is a big deal that Christ did come back to life. That’s not what I’m talking about here, it is the rejection of whole disciplines (biology, geology, etc.). Unfortunately, it is another step in that line that causes so many issues, not just rejection, but conflict. Seeing the ‘other side’ as against you, or evil. Evolution is a lie and only told by atheistic scientist out to get you and even worse, your children. Which inexplicably leads us to reject other forms of science (or be susceptible to conspiracy theories related to them) such as climate change or (currently) pandemics/vaccines. 

Interestingly, one oddity from literalism, is that it actually reduces belief in the miraculous. This isn’t always the case, but it pops up now and then, where someone will want to defend a point by explaining how it can happen naturally, to show that it could be ‘literal’, but in a way that downplays God’s involvement. I’ll give two types of examples. One is Jonah and the what? Fish? Or was it a whale? It has to be a whale, right, because you couldn’t live inside a fish. I find this to be a strange line of thought. Of course you can’t live in a fish, but also, a plant can’t grow up in a few hours that is big enough to give a man shade, not can it shrivel enough to no longer provide shade from a worm ‘attack’ in a few hours. Jonah says all these things happened, I take it be actual events with God’s intervention. Another example is natural but literal ways that things like the 10 plagues could have happened (blood in the river caused all the frogs to leave then they died and had swarms of bugs) or the walls of Jericho falling (could it have been some sonic acoustic weapon from the horns?). 

We see instances like this in a way with Revelation, especially the ‘Left Behind’/Dispensational view. Remember, we have to take the Bible literally, so when it says hornets attacked, then they must have, it can’t be apocalyptic imagery, it must be literal, so clearly, those are fighter jets. Wait, what? Is it literal or no? Yes, it is literal, things are attacking, by John didn’t really know (erred?) what he was seeing, they are jets or attack helicopters. 

Some of those last few are amusing, but the worst is when we just straight up change the text. Two quick examples, the mustard seed and one wife. Jesus says the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Well, it isn’t. If the Bible must be ‘without error’ in a modern literalist sense then we have a problem. The solution, well, learn to read the Bible in historical context, right? No, our translations will just add ‘of your’ to the text. Paul tells Timothy an elder should be a man of one wife, but we don’t want context and to ackwonwled that polygamy existed, so…let’s just change that to be ‘married’ or ‘faithful to his wife’, neither of which is what the text says. I said two, but also, go read Acts and Paul’s conversion stories, most translation change hear to understand in the last instance; again, despite the actual text. We are literally (in the actual sense) adding words to the Bible to protect the … Bible? We should probably take literally what Revelation says about adding or taking away from the book. 

This ended up being a lot more about the problem of literalism than inerrancy, I should probably change my title. However, the two (in the modern, American, evangelical context) have become nearly synonymous. Unfortunately, the word inerrancy has become nearly meaningless. People use it to mean too many things, or too narrow a thing (literalism) that discussions have almost become worthless. Often this causes people to jump around, redefine it, or use other words like inspired or authoritative. Some treat those words as synonymous, and we go around the circle again. I had no idea this issue came pretty much all from the Chicago Statement. It has greatly influenced my life, in mostly negative ways, where I feel like after years of thinking I knew the Bible pretty well, I’m having to actually study and learn basics in my 30’s. Add all this up, and I don’t think I can call myself an inerrantist. The word inerrancy is too lied to a hermeneutic (let alone a political ideology) that I don’t fully support and often find problematic. Maybe that puts me on the outside of current evangelical thought, but I think I’ll stick with inspired. As Bird points out in the book, this is the word use both by the Westminster and London Baptist confessions. 

 

 

Critical Race Theory vs. Eternal Subordination of the Son

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been making the Christian Twitter rounds the past month or so, a few months after making the right-wing politics Twitter rounds. I don’t have a great deal to say about CRT, mostly because I don’t think it much matters. Some people in my world are quite panicked about it, and I’m honestly a little unsure where all their fear is coming from. CRT is an academic theory used by some academics, sometimes, in some subjects as a tool of criticism. You can find a good summation of CRT here, from John Fea, who is an Evangelical Christian that works as a Historian at a conservative Christian College. He explains it as used by academics and points out someone else’s definition, in which I believe most people would agree with at least one or two of the points. 

I personally think he is being too charitable to the theory, however, maybe that is the problem. Maybe he is exactly right. The problem comes from when an academic exercise becomes ‘popular’, but at that point it loses all meaning. I feel like at this point, CRT has become one of those things were you ask 10 people to define, you’ll get 10 different definitions. Even more problematic, the far side of the democrats/left have weaponized it in the ever escalating war of identity politics. Of course, predictably, the far side of the republican/right (and far too man Evangelicals) have then responded with their typical cowering and fearmongering. Somewhat famously now, all six presidents of the SBC seminaries have written a joint declaration condemning CRT. I find it odd to see so many serious academics (mostly theologians) fear a secular academic theory that has noting to say about theology, Biblical studies, Greek/Hebrew, etc. Surely they know better. The truth of the Gospel is eternal, while CRT will probably be replaced by a new more ‘interesting’ theory in, what?, 10 years at the most. 

In some sense, we’ve been here before. Luckily, we didn’t run in fear, but instead adopted it and found it wanting. That is what happened with ‘Higher Criticism’ (also called Biblical Criticism) of 150 years or so, ago. It was the trendy thing, also out of the Frankfurt school, to attack the Bible, partly based on Enlightenment ideas, Schleiermacher, and a mix of archaeology/geology. Most academic Christians (seminary professors) adopted many of the ideas, found some useful, and rejected/disproved the other aspects. However, we didn’t cower, and where would Biblical studies be today without it? We’ve grown so much in our knowledge and proof of the Biblical truth since then. 

I’ll quickly say something about two other things related to CRT before moving on. First, while CRT is overrated, I think we should pay attention to intersectionality. That is a theory that is a race to the bottom in the turtles all the way down sense that I believe will have a far wider impact than CRT. I couldn’t seem to find a good link, but Albert Mohler’s podcast interviewed a guy, maybe back in the summer (June-ish) that really dove deeply into the topic. He was a British guy, I believe, and while he leaned a little too heavily on the familiar boogeyman of Marx, his explanations and real life examples were wild and fascinating. Second, wokeness. Woke is a nonsense term that has no meaning. It is similar to CRT in a sense, except it has no background or standing in academia. It is just a lazy twitter meme that vaguely means you support every changing far left politics (or sometimes it just means you don’t think black people should be shot by the police). The ‘concept’ if you can call it that, is so devoid of meaning and substance that it seems unnecessary for theologians to even address.

Which brings me to Owen Strachan, who a few months back, had a bizarre sermon/chapel speech where he stated that anyone ‘woke’ must be excommunicated. Again, woke is too ill-defined to even sense of what he is saying. But this is my main issue and the reason I want to write this – Strachan believes in the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). This is Semi-Arianism (at best) and does not comport with the Nicene Creed. ESS means that all persons of the Trinity are not equal, that the Son (and Holy Spirit?) are subordinate to the Father. Historical orthodox belief is that the Son gave up His equality in His condescension and incarnation, but now reigns again, co-equal with the Father. Full Arianism believes that the Father created the Son and Holy Spirit, meaning they were lesser beings. This was condemned as hearsay over 1,500 years ago (I do no believe Stachen et al supports Arianism). He isn’t alone the recently problematic Grudem also supports ESS. For a good article go here, Carl Trueman thinks that this may come from an odd defense of complementarianism (which is clearly Biblical without needing to rely on ESS), a timeline on the arguments with many links for a pretty deep dive, Michael Bird describe in a video the issue and then his thoughts

This was a few years ago, so why bring it up now? Because it made maybe a ripple in Christian Twitter to the tsunami of fears related to CRT. Maybe a tenth of the ink (pixels?) were spilled in defense of the orthodox view of the Trinity than was used for an opposition to the secular academic theory. Which matters more? Your doctrines of the Triune God or a social argument? My guess is most of those in your pews have never even heard of CRT, and if they have, it wasn’t in the true academic sense (see above). You know what else they don’t know – that God chooses those whom He saved before the foundation of the world (50% Evangelicals disagree), that God saves you, you don’t earn it (52% disagree), and most frighteningly about a third reject the Deity of Christ. Read these two surveys for stats and sadness. 

So, what is my point? I am deeply saddened and distressed that these leaders (some of home apparently don’t hold orthodox views) send so much time letter politics drive their message with their congregations don’t know Biblical basics or even the simple Gospel. 

*An addendum of sorts, I’ve been playing around with this article for about 10 days, unsure if I would even post anything (I actually stated on my last post that I likely wouldn’t post anything again). However, this has blown up even more on Christian Twitter/Bloggersphere, so I felt compelled to post, but with an edit here and a rework of my ending (which I guess I’ll just delete and end here). Many black pastors/professors have spoken out against the SBC statement on CRT. Many of them do not support CRT, and have written against it, but their arguments seem to fall into to camps. One right-wing political ideology is driving this, which seems pretty self evident, and two, that many fear that this blanket condemnation is a just a way to avoid any discussion of race, by then calling it CRT. This seems a bit hyperbolic, but then Twitter kind of proved it to be true. 

Edit – Like I said, I’m pretty done with politics. I don’t believe this post is about politics. I see it is a plea for our leaders not to fear the world and to do a better job pastoring their flock. Again, I can’t say this enough, who cares about the 10% or so that have even heard of CRT (and already rejected it), when half of your congregation doesn’t believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light and that no one comes to the Father except through him? Why do we spend so much time arguing about a secular, liberal, academic theory when orthodoxy regarding the Trinity is now longer settled?

Of course, many people who attack me for being political because I say things that doesn’t fit their political view. If I say transgenderism is incoherent and dangerous, people say ‘amen’, when I say Metexas claiming he will fight to his last drop of blood to defend a conspiracy theory and Trump is clearly Caesar worship, people say ‘I don’t like when you get political, stick to book reviews.’ You can tell what people truly worship by what you are not allowed to criticize. 

Discussing politics is exhausting, though, and I’m done, even though I can predict what will be written over the next four years. After four years of only the government can protect us and Romans 13, Christians will write endless articles about when/why/how to defy the Government. Then when republicans when again in 2024 (which I think they will if they take back the center, which I think the far left will easily abandoned with their nonsense) and we’ll all be about Romans 13 again. We’ve got to stop putting politics first and letting it drive our theology. I’ve retweeted a few things from people about CRT and most (not all, you know who you are) of the criticisms are the ‘hurr durr why don’t you think the Bible is truth/reject the Bible, you are the real racist, DEMOCRAT (clever, I know)’. Most things I’ve seen are intellectually lazy or disingenuous, at best.  So, if you read this and you have some brilliant thoughts on the evils CRT or want to no read anything and just ignorantly ask why I support it, keep it to yourself. However, if you have thoughts on ESS (either for or against), I’d love to hear them. Also, also love hearing any studies or classes or anything your church is doing to help educate your congregation on the basics of Christianity. Feel free to let me know. 

Edit 2 – If you don’t think people are overreacting, check out this tweet from a few weeks ago when Jared Wilson (a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) said something about race as it related to Jonah and Peter/Paul, and the reactions he received.

Final Edit – Our sermon from this past Sunday (last Sunday of Advent) was from Isaiah 9 and our preacher discussed some of the current political issues (of sorts). I will post it when the audio is available, please listen if you have time because he rocked it, and I think it is a good reminder to all of us.

Age of the Earth Discussion Video

Watch me and friends from church discuss the age of the Earth (I’m the one who was freeze framed with my eyes closed):

I’ll point out for those curious, this was not meant to be a debate, but instead a discussion of general positions people hold, and which positions we hold in particular. There was so much more all of us wanted to say, but as you can see from the length of the video, we already failed our 45 minute hard stop. It seemed like every question and tangent could have been its own hour long discussion. 

As you can see, I’m not the best speaker, and apparently my mom was correct in that I cannot sit still and fidget too much. So I wanted to clarify or expand on a few things here. Like I said, this wasn’t a debate, so we didn’t really interact with each other’s positions that much, but this is my site, so I can do what I want. 

I thought that there would be a little more on the Literary Framework Interpretation, so I kind of cut it short, but it works better as a visual anyway. The main argument is that we have a symmetry where God creates ‘realms’ so to speak, and then fills those ‘realms’, then as Ruler of all and uncreated, He rests on the seventh day (which also establishes the Sabbath, which we didn’t get much into). It looks something like this:

Creation KingdomsCreature Kinds
Day 1: LightDay 4: Luminaries
Day 2: Sky/WaterDay 5: Birds/Fish
Day 3: Land/VegetationDay 6: Land animals/Man
The Creator King
Day 7: Sabbath

For people who are interested in a non-literal, chronological reading of Genesis 1, I think this a good understanding. Of course, and I thought we’d talk more about literal vs literary, very few people actually have a literal view. If they did, they would have to believe that there is a dome above the Earth (the firmament) that separates the waters from above. Very few people believe this anymore. Martin Luther was adamant that you had to have this view, while Calvin was a little more understanding that conception of cosmology has changed (though he was still a strident geocentrist).

I think that is something we have to wrestle with if we try a truly literal view from Old Testament cosmology. This was the debate around Galileo, that the Earth simply could not revolve around the sun. Why? Because the Psalms and Job said that the Earth is fixed on its foundation and cannot be moved. This is even attested to in the New Testament where we learn that the plan of salvation goes back to before the foundation of the world.

That is what changed my position, as I tried to state in the video. Nothing about science, but by learning about Ancient Near East cultures and their cosmology. Understanding Genesis in its place and world, helps you to understand the purpose.

As for evolutionary science, I don’t really care. If something came out tomorrow and all of sudden all scientist agreed that evolution was wrong all this time, that would not change my interpretation of Genesis. However, as it stands now, someone’s feeling or opinions are irrelevant to the science of evolution, it is established fact (for now, I suppose it could change). However, I maintain that this isn’t the point of Genesis and so to reiterate, I’ll end with the J.I. Packer quote I read last night:

I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and I maintain it in print, but exegetically I cannot see that anything Scripture says, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or the other.

Primer on Creation

Michelangelo - Creation of Adam (cropped).jpg

Edit – My editor has recommend that I not post a 4,500+ word article, but instead make it 2-3 posts. However, as always, I will ignore this advice (despite it’s applicability; this is also the reminder that I write what I want, and believe you have no problem following along). I don’t write for acclaim or money (clearly). So, enjoy.

Biblical interpretation is obviously something that I have great interest in. Probably the two most difficult areas in the Bible are Genesis 1-11 and Revelation. That is, unless you grow up in a highly conservative or fundamentalist church, like I did. In that case, there is no room for discussion or thought, you either interpret them ‘literally’ or you are not a Christian.

Later, in my 20’s, I started to study the Bible for myself and my understanding and found the views I had been taught, despite their claims, are not the most common either today or historically (not the topic today, but quite the opposite of historical, Dispensationalism is one of the newest theological frameworks around). I have since read many books (especially in the Counter Point series) about Creation, Adam, Genesis 1-11 and commentaries (and hermneutic guides) on Genesis (as well as Romans).

While my view had been a literal 24-hour creation of the universe 6,000-10,000 year ago and that it was highly controversial or dangerous to think otherwise, my later study showed this to not be the case. This is not really the view outside of American Evangelical Christians (in fact JI Packer has stated that there may be political undertones to this belief, not Biblical study).

Yesterday, the church I attend started a year long Bible reading plan. Next Sunday’s sermon will be on Creation (always a good place to start), and due to the aforementioned concerns, I will be taking part in a panel that will discuss creation (titled incorrectly on our website as a panel on the age of the Earth), which I will post later.

All that to say, I have been reviewing my notes, research, and books on Creation, so good way to get my thoughts out is to write them down. What proceeds is a broad overview of what I consider to be the three views in Creation, their support and issues, and then a list of resources. Hopefully, you may find this helpful.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC)
This is what most people in America think about as ‘Creationism’. It is also what New Atheist and other people antithetical to Christianity refer to as a ‘Christian belief’. The view is very simple, God created the universe some 6,000 years ago based on the ‘simple’/’literal’ reading of Genesis, and the calculations of Ussher, a 15th century monk who used the genealogies in Genesis to work backwards to devise a timeline of creation. Adam was the result of special creation (as were all living things), the world was created in six, literal, 24-hour days. People lived for 100’s of years old before the Flood, Noah was a real person who survived a global flood that destroyed all humanity up to that point, I don’t hear/read much about the Tower of Babel, but I assume it should be taken literally and that there was only one language at the time.

All physics, biology, and geology (among others) and incorrect in their views of the age of the earth and evolution and should be rejected. Any views otherwise are an attempt to harmonize science and the Bible, which is incorrect, the Bible should lead. The reason that things appear older or different than this account are due to the affects of the flood or human/science error.  Common among people of his belief is that this is the main view of Christians today and most in history. Also, it is likely that your salvation is in question if you do not believe.

Pro’s – this is a very simple reading that I suppose many people could come away with if they just read the first few chapters of the Bible. No issue whatsoever with a ‘historical Adam’ and the idea of original sin. This is important because Paul calls Christ the second Adam and if we don’t come from two original people, then how did we inherit sin? I’m hesitant to also list, but, death before the fall. YEC’s see Paul as saying there was no literal death before the fall.

Issues – Many, first of all, everything about most (all?) science that exist. However, this is not a site that cares (to an extent) about science, but my focus is on theology. Though, I will say that YEC’s think that the Flood jacked up everything and gave it the appearance of old age to (possibly) test our faith. On objection I have to this is that it is unbiblical, the Bible never states that salvation hinges on a belief in ‘literal’ view of creation and that God tested our faith.

If anything, this goes to my main concern about this belief. Why would God give us a test, but not tell us he is testing us? Further more, it breaks the first rule of hermenuetics, what did this mean to the original hearers? The ancient Isrealites would not have thought about Genesis over and above physics/evolution. They would thought of it against the common(ish) world beliefs at the time – Gilgamesh and Enu Elish, among others – we were created from blood/sweat/beer/ and mud/dust/clay either out of violence or to serve our (many) gods. Instead, we were made, over and against chaos, by the one true God, for His good pleasure, in His image, to be His stewards over the earth.

Similarly, this is not necessarily the ‘historical view’ of Creation. Now, I will make a caveat here, the concept of Evolution did not exist until less than 200 years ago, but the ideas of how to interpret Genesis 1-11, and the age of the earth are ancient. Philo, not a Christian, but a Jew in the first century (as were Jesus, all the Disciples, and all the authors of the New Testament except Luke) took an ‘allegorical’ view of Genesis. Not just 1-11, but the whole thing. For early Christian, we have Irenaeus in the second century, writing in Against Heresies, that the early parts of Genesis should not be taken literally. Similarly, we have Origien and Alexandrian School, in the third, writing that Genesis was allegory. Augustine, whom coined the idea of original sin, similarly did not support a ‘literal’ reading.

We can jump ahead to Charles Hodge who support old earth (but unclear on evolution, however writing as a contemporary); B.B. Warfied, who wrote the book on the Biblical Inerrancy,  who supported both old age and evolution; to Grudem and Ericson, the most prolific Systematic theologians of the 20th century (yet, both still alive in the 21st) who did not reject old earth, to pastors or theologians like JI Packer, Keller, Longmen, Windham, and Kline accept evolution. There is also the fact that YEC is rejected by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, all the so-called Mainline churches (I understand this maybe a point of support for), but also YEC only is not supported by either the SBC or PCA (or even the OPC); they all support all views. Also, looks at current (evangelical) seminary professors at Westminster (and WSCAL), all the RTS’s, all the SBC schools, Gorden-Conwell, and you will find little support for YEC. So, even if it is correct, it is incorrect to say that it is the orthodox and historical view.

Excurses – RC Sproul has a great lecture you can find online that discusses Luther and Calvin. Luther was clearly YEC, literal view of Genesis. Calvin was a little (uncharacteristically) squishy, seeming to believe something like literal unless proven otherwise. Sproul’s point is that they were both ardently anti-geocentricty. Yet it exist, it is unargued truth, today; and they were still both great theologians and reformers.

It is clear the science is against YEC and that their claim about historical understanding is incorrect. I’ll also just say again, you have to view the reading in the way it was originally hear, compared to other creation stories of the time, and the it’s ‘couplet’/’framework’ nature, and the lack of ‘this is the account of’ that tells hearers this is historical as 21st century westerners understand it. There are also issues with the genealogies used to calculate age, i.e. they don’t always match, not because they were wrong, but because this wasn’t a record keeping exercise, but a theological point.

Finally, if everything is ‘literal’ then everything is literal, this includes your reading of Genesis and Romans. Yet, again, the man that coined original sin did not see Adam as historical. So, clearly there is room for different views. If Adam was elect out of the others, for no reason, that is not different than most Old Testament Patriarchs or the New Testament view of election. Clearly, for many old and great theologians in church history, the ‘historical Adam’ is not an issue. To say so, is to believe that a view of Genesis that isn’t ‘literal’ is just a capitulation to science over and above the Bible, but as I have shown, there was much discussion long before Geological Age or Evolutionary Theory. So, the issue must exist in interpretation of the theology, not science. Ironically, I feel they are the ones reacting to modern science, not the other way around.

Old Earth Creationism (Progressive Creationism, Day-Age Creationism) (OEC)
Old Earth Creationism essentially says that we don’t need to take the first few chapters of Genesis ‘literally’ and that there is clearly some literary framework happening. Science says that the universe/earth is billions of years old, and as that is indisputable, we should take it for it’s word. However, though science is clear on evolution, we should not accept that aspect. One of the subsets of this view is the specific ‘day-age’, that is the world was created in six ‘days’, but those days are not 24 hour days as we know them. So, it allows for an old earth, yet the creation story is still there and that is the order of creation and evolution cannot exist.

In the above YEC, I hit most of the major issues, so the remainder will be a little shorter.

Pros – This is actually the view of most of the history of the church, and likely, at least the plurality of views today, in the Evangelical world. I won’t review them again, or list even more, but if you were to go through even more pastors/theologians, this view would likely have the most support.

Issues – still the basic issue of science, which is clear on evolution. To hold this view, there is disconcordance in picking and choosing which sciences you believe – you would hold to correct physics and geology (and I would argue, correct hermeneutics), but dismiss archaeology and biology (and chemistry to a lesser extent, among others). I’ve often been accused of having an ‘all or nothing’ problem, but I do take issue with picking and choosing which science to believe. Similarly, there is the simplicity issue, why would some science seem correct, but others not? What would God being doing here? Also, still, if holding to full special individual creation, no issue with Adam.

I already mentioned the early Christians and others who hold a non-literal view of Genesis (at least 1-11), so for a historical argument, if you take these passages as allegorical (as has been the actual history), then you’d have no issue with all the science. I guess my biggest critique of this view (which, I should, was my view for quite some time, but ultimately, I fond it untenable) is that you are trying to have it both ways. Which, I think uncritically, people find reassuring, it sounds nice to pick a ‘high’ view of the Bible, while still accepting some science, but in reality, I think you are missing both and sell both a little short.

Evolutionary Creationism (EC)
Evolutionary creationism accepts both the Bible (though not as some) and science. There is the very common ‘framework theory’ of Genesis, as far as Biblical interpretation goes, as well as the acceptance of all (not just some) science.

Pros – I believe this would be the view of the early church, based on readings of both the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, as well as early (AD) Jewish writers and Midrash. They would have no problem with the later (to them) science of both old earth and evolution, because they didn’t see any of that as the point. They don’t (and neither do quite a few modern others, as I listed above) view the first few chapters of Genesis as a science or history (as modern westerner’s view it) book, but just as theology. God created the world (universe) and all that is in it; this over and above any other religions or non-religious view of how the universe and life came to be.

Issues – None with science (other than those adamant that there is not God, but that is not our focus here, very few people actually doubt a god/higher power of some sort). From theological perspective, as mentioned above, occasionally, you run into Christians who are militant about the YEC view. However, as I’ve shown, this was at most ever, the plurality view (but was always close enough that theologians for 1900 years have had to discuss). The early church (I believe) over allegoricalized all of Genesis (a mistake, I believe, as we have indicators such as ‘this is the account’ and the various view of the NT writers), when just the ‘primordial’ or ‘pre-history’ of 1-11 is truly in dispute.

The issue of Adam. I’ll admit this is the stickiest point. Though, maybe that is due to my individual upbringing. Again, the early church say most of Genesis as allegory (again, again, not my view, I support ‘theological history’), yet, as with Augustine (but to be fair, his mentor Ambrose, did no share his view), did not have an issue with original sin. These early fathers, as well as our non-Protestant brothers today, do not see an issue of whether Adam was real or not (but not ‘non-existent’, more of whether he was ‘chosen’ or archetypal [representative]’). As a broad theological concept (my personal views below), we need to remember that we don’t sin because Adam sinned. I didn’t inherit, from Adam, some deformed gene, that caused me to sin. I sinned (and continue to sin) because I am a sinner, and because humans are flawed individuals who fail to keep God’s standards. This isn’t genetic, this is a component of what it is to be created and not the Creator.

I think this view is hard for people. I get it, I really do; I’ve been there. It appears that you are synthesizing the Bible with science. Hopefully, I’ve shown that to not be the case, that the issue of interpretation is actually quite old. Honestly, though, the hard part is learning. It is studying, and thinking about ancient cosmology, early and modern hermeneutics. It is thinking about what Moses (who I believe gave us the first five books of the Bible) and Paul (I accept every book attributed to him) thought about history and cosmology, and how those may differ from the modern concepts, yet our theology is the same (God is the creator and sustainer of all that ever existed, exists, ever will exist). It is hard because we read in modern English (though so did Warfield and Hodge, among even more modern theologians), while Luther read German and Greek/Hebrew, Calvin new French, wrote in Latin, read Greek/Hebrew, Augustine only Latin, Paul had Greek and Hebrew, Moses only Hebrew.

As Modern American Evangelical Individualist, we want to believe that we can open our Bibles and simple walk away with the clear/plain/simple meaning, but that belies the history/language/genres/complexity of the Bible. I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture for salvation, but let’s remember in Peter (in the Bible) says that Paul’s writing are hard to understand. That is why I believe that careful study of the Bible is essential for modern Evangelicals (more below).

Other Views(ish)
I feel (hope), I’ve given a faithful overview of the different perspectives on Creation. There are a few more, which I figured I’d shortly address, though they lack (or are incorporated in) the depth of the views above.

Theistic/Deistic Evolution – This is more or less consistent with Evolutionary Creationism, but without the God of the Bible/Christianity aspect. I’d add Jewish people and (most) Muslims (though some would fall more into an ‘Old Earth’ but no evolution view) in this view as their interpretation is Genesis 1-3 would be viewed the same, but we don’t view God (Trinity, Resurrection of Christ, etc) the same. Also, I did read about agnostic evolution, which essentially accepts all science and says whether or not a deity exists or was involved is irrelevant.

Intelligent Design – I didn’t include this as separate view above, as some books have, because it actually incorporates all views above (except for Agnostic). Their guiding principle is that science can’t tell us everything, and that God was active in creation and evolution (if the person support evolution). I feel like the term is often just used for ‘creationist’ but it is actually a distinct and diverse group/movement.

Creation Doesn’t Exist – God doesn’t exist/isn’t involved. The universe was created by the Big Bang (though we don’t know how that happened) and then evolution created all life (though we don’t know how it moved from inorganic to organic life).

My View
As you have likely deciphered, I am neither YEC or OEC. I am more sensitive to OEC, because in all honestly I can’t rule out the specific special creation of Adam and Eve, thought I doubt that is the most likely. I struggle with YEC. I try to accomodate and be faithful to their beliefs, but they often (there are certainly exceptions as the video I will link in a week or so will show) antagonist and militant. Likewise, they make claims (forget science for the moment) that are demonstrability false. There is clearly a broad arrange of views, all of which (if supported with thought) should carry some weight. I’m given to understand that roughly half of the Elders of my church of YEC. While I personally disagree, I have no doubts in these men having the ability to study the Scripture for themselves, while being magnanimous towards other view.

So, all that to say, I support old Earth (clearly) and generally support Evolution. The science is there for it all, but I can’t full rule out (though again, not my main view) the idea of a special creation for Adam and Eve. I view Genesis 1-11 as historical theology. It is real but it is not historicity, as we know it as modern westerners. I know that God created the Universe (we are not an unexplained accident) and through His laws, with His providence, we became humans as we know it. As for Adam and Eve, I think they were specifically chosen, representative people (likely neo-lithic) that God separated as the first of those He would call and would be our history (we have Father Abraham without being his literal, genetic descendants).

As for Paul, in Roman, who call Jesus the second Adam, I do believe there is a categorical issue here. Supposedly, some atheist/agnostics struggle with the fact that Jesus calls Jonah’s captor a fish, while the OT calls it a whale. My question is, what did you expect Jesus to do? Was He supposed to have a side note lesson on taxonomy? Was He supposed to point out to fishermen that though they called everything in water fish (we still refer to lobsters, crab, etc. as ‘shell’ fish, though they aren’t fish) some weren’t? That some were actually mammals? You are really missing the point, if you are looking for pure science here (again, as modern westerners know it, who’s to say that all animals that live in water aren’t one category, while all those on land are another?).

While I believe Adam and Eve were real, I don’t expect that, if they weren’t, it would have been Paul’s job to fix our understanding. Again, the issue here is Theology, specially, the theology of the Cross, the Atonement, the Propitiation of our sins; none of these really have much to say about ancient cosmology. Maybe you are thinking, well, then, it doesn’t matter, but see below.

The overall point, from my perspective, is that the ancients, the early church, the Reformation church, and the church in our modern times all have different views of science and history and what the world means. We have words for which some do not even have concepts, and I think that matters when we consider these issues. However, we are all in agreement that God (the Father) created (with the Son and Holy Spirit) the world, He gave us the Law, he intervened in history (likely to a great and much older extent than we know), He sent His Son, who lived a perfect life, died for us, we were accounted his righteousness, He rose again and was ascended to the right hand of the Father, whom sent the Holy Spirit. That’s where we are today. We know that Christ is only way, and we shouldn’t attack other Christian with whom we share this belief. I know that some are happy to point out that even ‘evolutionist’ question some aspects of evolution. First, that is how science works. Second, none of them reject evolution. Surely, we, who believe in Christ, can find unity to answers those who say that there is no god, instead of eating our own, bones and all.

What it Matters
This is a Biblical Interpretation issue, not a salvation one. I believe that a Christian can hold any of these views and be a faithful believer. This is not what people call a ‘primary issue’, most pastors/theologians would say it is tertiary, though I would actually say it is secondary. I don’t want people fighting or splitting churches over it, but I do think people should care. I polled (informally) about 10 people to get their views, and all but one said tried to hold both young-earth and science in tension together. They essentially said that they believed in science, but also read the Bible ‘simply’, but (and this is the worst part), didn’t really think much of it, because it doesn’t matter all that much.

Just from an intellectual stand-point, that is some serious cognitive dissonance. From Biblical view it is certainly far from ‘mediate on your laws day and night’, ‘give a defense of what you believe’, and the accounts of Paul and the Apostles ‘reasoning with’ non-believers.

Again, I get it, it is not a salvation issue, but honestly, sit and think, can you claim to take the Bible seriously, can you claim you want to study the Word and really know it, if you don’t even understand/try to understand/or form opinions on the opening chapters? I’d say no. There is no excuse for lack of Bible study if you consider yourself a Christian who is serious about the Bible. I’ll preface this with the fact that in is really intended for people like me, middle and upper middle class families, whom are educated and have no material needs unmet: you have no material needs and are educated. There is no reason not to pick up a commentary or at least an ‘expensive’ study Bible.

People don’t like this, but it is honestly insulting to those that came before us that we have so much information and study materials at hand, and neglect them all. I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a Bible from my great-granddad, who was a Pentecostal preacher. He bought it 100 years ago (1920), and I have the original receipt. According to the BLS inflation calculator, it cost him about $130 in his time, and he was a dirt farmer/preacher who never had indoor plumbing until later in life when he retire (50’s, I believe), and never owned a TV. Forget study Bible notes, his Bible didn’t even have cross references, let alone footnotes. Let us not forget the people who were literally killed for printing the Bible in the common language. We have more access now than ever before, and honestly, we seem to just not care. End rant; but you really should know your Bible, and what you believe about it (to some extent) and why.

Resources
I’ll start with a few website/thinktanks/groups:
Though I can’t really recommend Ken Ham (due to his like of charity or understanding), here is the preeminent YEC group – https://answersingenesis.org/
For the middle view (OEC) – https://reasons.org/
For Evolutionary Creationist – https://biologos.org/
For the Intelligent Design movement – https://www.discovery.org/

For commentaries*, I pretty much only use those recommended by Piper and Sproul (or the Gospel Coalition), they are typically written by professors at conservative Evangelical seminaries (as listed above). I’ll note that none support YEC, and they are maybe 60/40 on support of Evolution:
New Bible Commentary (I have a special affinity of this commentary as I have the the ’21ist Century Version’, but I inherited the original [circa 1970’s] from my Granddaddy, who use it for teaching his Sunday School class of 40 years. Coincidentally, it is edited by big Evangelical names like Carson and Piper calls it the best over one-volume commentary that exist).
Expositors Bible Commentary
Word Biblical Commentary (one of the more technical ones, but fully Evangelical).
Tyndall Commentary
Commentary on Genesis by Wendham and Zondervan (also technical, but Evangelical).
Broadmen Bible Commentary (official Commentary of the SBC)

Systematic Theologies* that are helpful in the ‘Anthropology’ and ‘Sin’ Categories (again, could not find any support for YEC; either predated or mixed on Evolution):
Systematic Theology by Hodge
Systematic Theology by Grudem
Christian Theology by Erickson

Books that review reading/hermeneutics or issues in Genesis (either 1-11 or more broadly), again, these are only conservative Apostles Creed supporting protestants (I’m unclear if Enns still considers himself Evangelical due to the determinant of the current political climate, though he was a professor at Westminster, the premier modern Reformed Evangelical Seminary):
Collins – The Language of God (written by the guy that headed the Human Genome Project, also a born-again, Evangelical Christian).
Enns – Evolution of Adam and Inspiration and Incarnation
Longmen – How to Read Genesis and Controversies in the Old Testament (my review)
Couner Point Series – Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (my review) and Four Views on the Historical Adam (my review).

Study Bibles (again, no clear YEC*):
Reformation Study Bible (GE Sproul)
ESV Study Bible (GE Grudem)
Biblical Theological Study Bible (GE DA Carson)
The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (to be fair, moderate to liberal, but it is the study Bible of people who care in Anglican and Catholic views).
I read no moderate/progressive ‘study Bibles’, and ‘liberal’ study Bible do not exist as liberals do not study the Bible as such (personal growth).

* I want to make it clear, none of these view are completely inline, nor do they reflect my specific view of everything. My point is that YEC is fairly unattested to in the academic literate (again, only considering the conservative, Evangelical, mostly reformed professors, think all the SBC’s, all the RTS’s, and Westminster/WSCAL). These are works that should make you consider what you believe, in light of the scholarship of true believers, outside of ‘scientific literature’. This is more important than science, this is our understanding of the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro, 1 Thess 1-2:121 Thess 2:13-3:131 Thess 4:1-12, and 1 Thess 4:13-5:11.

There is a good deal of content packed in to Paul’s concluding remarks in this letter (read the verses here). We have a rapid fire thoughts coming out in short burst of related material, especially in verses 12-22. It is almost like Paul was running out of paper and was just trying to get some points out, even if he couldn’t add commentary. verses 23 & 24 are typical Pauline benediction, 25-27 he gives instruction, and in 28 we have his usual sign off.

12 & 13
Paul gives instructions to the congregation on how to react to the elders/leader so the church. Who are theses people? Those who labor among you, those who are over you, and those who admonish you. The word translated ‘labor’ here in Greek means, well, labor, it was the actual word for people who engaged manually with work. Being a pastor/elder is not a Sunday only job. Paul also reminds them they are spiritually over them and responsible for them. Admonish is a clearly negative word but was often associated with the positive, to teach. The call to the congregation is to respect and acknowledge those over you and be at peace with everyone.

14
Idle or undisciplined was usually a military term and refers to people who were disorderly or listless, not necessarily just lazy. I do not think it refers back to those who didn’t work, from earlier in the letter. Fainthearted and weak are meant spiritually, not physically. Stott sees them as those who struggled sexual, as earlier in the letter, though others consider it broader as people who are younger or less mature in their faith. Of course they will fail, as we all do, so Paul command patience with them all.

15
Evil here is probably better translated ‘wrong’. It is a common refrain in Scripture (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:43-33, Proverbs 25:21, etc.) that we still struggle with, or completely ignore as a church today.

16-18
We move from our obligations to elders/pastors, and other believers, to our response to God. Unlike the previous few verses which are just difficult, these are impossible – joy, prayer, and gratitude are just not things that we can do always, continually, and in all circumstances. In some ways, this is another great reminder of the blessing of grace. However funny it may sound now, joy was countercultural at the time among the Greeks, especially Stoicism, yet it should be characteristic of Christians.

Luckily, the word ‘continually’ (adialeiptos) was often used hyperbolically; Paul elsewhere (Roman, Ephesians, Colossians) tells us to preserve in prayer. Then again, the point here may be that prayer is an ongoing/always thing, not just during the set hours of prayer that was the custom among Jews and other religions at the time. We can pray directly to God whenever we want, and without the need of a priest. Giving thanks was also something done at certain times and usually by priest, and typically for specific events – holy days, harvest, births, etc.; but the point here is we should give thanks in all circumstances, good, bad, or mundane (our daily bread).

19-21
It appears the Thessalonians might have had the opposite issue of the Corinthians, in that instead of putting too much emphasis on gifts, they might have been rejecting them. They apparently did not like having a prophetic voice. It is funny to think that we still have these opposing issues today (Pentecostal vs. Reformed). Paul tells them to allow the Spirit to move and speak in people, but not accept it blindly, but to test it against what we know from scripture and to keep/hold on to what we know to be good and true.

22
Resist all forms of wrong is pretty straightforward. This verse makes me think of a fairly common salutation in the South when leaving friends or family that you will not see again for a while – y’all be good.

23 & 24
The usual benediction where Paul asks Christ to bless and keep us holy.

25
Paul often ask for prayers, but again this is not common in other religions or cultures where only the priest can pray to God for you. Here, Paul is command them to pray for him and the other leaders; as all Christians can pray, and all Christian need prayer.

26
This is another thing that sounds weird to us, and a fun verse to point out to people who say they ‘take the Bible literally’. What seems to be happening here is a call for equality as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Typically one would kiss the hand of the person with the higher status, but instead we are all called to kiss each other on the cheek (as sign of equals). Apparently this lasted for a while and across genders, until it was curbed a few centuries later for ‘abuses’.

27 & 28
It wasn’t uncommon for Paul to ask for the letters to be read to all, as his instructions are for all in the church. He follows that instruction with another one of his typically signs offs, asking for the grace (blessing and peace) of Christ to be with us all.

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro, 1 Thess 1-2:121 Thess 2:13-3:13, and 1 Thess 4:1-12.

Once again we have a section that whose purpose may show that 2 Thessalonians was actually the first letter (see my intro for more). In 2 Thess 1:5-12, Paul tells the Thessalonians about the second coming of Christ in judgement. In that letter, we are told that Christ will be revealed from heaven. The word is apokalypsei, obviously the word from which we receive the modern English word apokalypse. Paul in 1 Thessalonians (and elsewhere) uses a different word for Christ coming, one that is more triumphal. Likely, the original letter caused the Thessalonians to have two questions, first, if we will greet Christ as he returns, what about those who have died until he returns? Second, when is he coming? These are the last two major points covered by Paul in this letter and what we’ll look at today.

4:13-18
Three times in the this five verse response Paul tells the Thessalonians that those asleep will come first. I think that is a clear indication (and I haven’t seen a commentator who thought otherwise) that Paul is responding to a concern the Thessalonians had regarding the coming of the Lord. It is also worth noting that ‘asleep’ as a euphemism was pretty common in Greek and Latin literateture. It is pretty well attested to in other writings and we shouldn’t make a theological point (such as soul sleep) from Paul’s use of the word.

So clearly, those who have already died will for some reason or another precede us. It says the dead will rise first, perhaps this is because the dead have already spent time in heaven with Christ and returning with him to initiate the New Heaven and New Earth that will come after the final judgement.

The word used here for Christ return is parousia; which means arrival or visit and it was often used for royal or official meetings. A visiting dignitary or returning triumphal king would ‘arrive’ and officials from the city would come out of the gate and welcome him, bringing him back into the city. What Paul is trying to get a across is that while Christ’s return means judgement for the world, it would instead be a  glorious return for us.

Meeting in the clouds would be where we greet Christ and return to Earth. Clouds are often considered the meeting place between human and divine in ancient literature. Likewise, we have Daniel writing of the Son of Man coming on the clouds.

Now, the return will be something like celebratory process, it will be a quick and sudden event. The ESV says  we ‘will be caught up’, the Greek word here is harpagismoetha, which has the connotation of a sudden event such as ‘snatch’ or ‘take away’. The more common word used is harpazo from which we see the Latin word rapio, from which we have our English word rapture.

It is beyond the scope of this study, but I think it is important to know the real meaning of the words used here. An entire ideology, and one with an oversized influence on modern American Christianity, has come up around this word which fairly clearly does no mean what certain people represent it to mean. The main point for now is that the event is sudden and transitions to Paul’s next answer regarding the time of Christ’s return.

A final note on this section, the word Paul uses for ‘rose’ in verse 14 isn’t his typical word used and the structure of the sentence makes it seem as if this might be some early creed among Christians. He may have just used a different word, too, but it isn’t uncommon for early writers to display writings that appear to be known sayings or creeds.

5:1-11
It seems a little odd that Paul writes that he doesn’t need to write anything, and that they already know, then spends 10 verses writing to them what they seem not to know. Again, this is likely something he touched on in his first visit, but after his letter concerning judgment in Christ’s return, they must have been nervous. As it is, Paul ends the section above and this one with the command to encourage one another.

Paul uses a few metaphors to explain the unexpectedness before moving on to tell us how we should act. The word for sleep in this section is different than the one above, and had the meaning more of negligence. Similarly, sober could connote thinking clearly. As fun as day-drinking a napping are, they rarely mean that we are working or acting in an expectant manner. From the other content of the letters to Thessalonica, it appears that some of them might have expected the return to be imminent and were therefore nor working or behaving in the manner they should.

Using light and darkness as good and bad is fairly common, and builds with our wakefulness and sobermindedness, for us to remain diligent in our life as we wait on the Lord. As in other letters, Paul uses the metaphor of armor. Interestingly, Paul touches again on faith, hope, and love. Here he says these three things are our amour as we wait for Christ return, and in 1 Corinthians, we are told that after Christ’s return, those attributes will all remain.

To wrap things up before his final conclusion/instructions/benediction, he reminds them that they are not destined for wrath, as other, but have been destined for life and salvation through Christ who died for us.

A final note on this section, verse 3 might have been an actual saying at the time. Both Diodaus and Siculus have written the phrase ‘comfort in peace, security in war.’ Now, this could be just Paul using two of the same words and it is just a coincidence, if he is saying you will have neither comfort or security, neither peace nor war, but final destruction. However, if it is a play on a known phrase (which was not uncommon in writings at the time), then it is another reminder of Pual being a real person and a real time. It doesn’t have some super spiritual meaning or any great theological point, this phrase anyway, but I like this reminder. It connects me back to this ancient book written in a langauge I don’t know during a time I don’t understand.

So, as Paul says, encourage each other. Whether we are alive or dead, those in Christ will live again and have eternal life. We don’t know when he is coming, and generation after generation has passed without his return, but we continue on. It will come suddenly, or we may die before he does, either way, we encourage each other in our future hope.

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)