13 February, 2007

Conversation with Brent

A discussion about "contradictions" and "problem verses" in Scripture.

-Tiny Tim


Blogger Brent said...

Just chiming in here to make sure that I have the right place. I'll start things off a little later (maybe tomorrow) when I get time to present some things. Look forward to the discussion.

Brent (ex-Christian)

February 13, 2007 1:53 PM  
Anonymous tiny tim said...

You're in the right place :)

February 13, 2007 2:27 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

Topic: Dealing with problematic passages in the Bible without "explaining away" the sections in question.

I grew up in a Christian family. I received a Christian education. I believed in a being called God from the time I could speak. I was zealous for this assumed God and spent many years attempting to understand him and learn about him and the documents he miraculously penned through willing agents. I "defended the faith" and stood by the scriptures because I knew that they were the Word of God and, thus, infallable and inerrant. Then one day - I didn't anymore.

It was ironically through the study of scripture that I began to see that things were not as I had assumed. Over time I realized that the Bible was written by men attempting to understand the transcendent and unknown (bottom-up) rather than the notion that it was written by men through the inspiration of the creator of the universe (top-down).

There were a host of reasons for my "conversion" away from the Christian viewpoint which I had held for 30+ years. One of these was a critical look at the "problematic" passages of scripture. There are hundreds of these that could be discussed here. It appears from most of the posts on this blog that there are many who like to throw lots of information out there at one time. I will attempt to present one or two things at a time so that a more simple discussion will follow. I hope that this is fine with those who administer this blog.

Problematic passage #1: Genesis 6-8 (The Great Flood) - What better place to start than Genesis? The story of the creation has been discussed much here, so I thought I'd move to this story.

"Then YHWH said, My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be 120 years." (Gen. 6:3)

Noah lived to be 950 years old (9:29); a host of others lived well past 120 years old (11:10-26,32). How does one reconcile these passages?

"And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark...." (6:19)

"Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also...." (7:2-3)

How many animals did Noah take on the ark?

Let the discussion begin.


February 14, 2007 6:05 PM  
Anonymous tiny tim said...

Passage #1 – The Flood

1. I’m not sure what needs to be reconciled here. God says people would start dying around the 120-year mark once they stopped having His spirit abiding in them. There were still individuals who did have God’s spirit abiding in them and these people lived longer than average.

2. As for the number of animals on the ark, the verses you listed are good. Twos and sevens.

February 14, 2007 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Lily said...

Hey Brent, love your idea of tackling one or two topics at a time.

Q1: Noah lived to be 950y, Methuselah, 969y! (Gen. 5:27). Consider the following: The Bible states that the flood would not only destroy the land dwelling air breathing animals but it would also destroy the earth. (Gen.6:13). The earth after the flood could have been completely different than the earth before the flood with widespread global differences. These differences could include changes in the climate, composition of the atmosphere, hydrologic cycle, geologic features, cosmic radiation reaching the earth, ozone concentration, ultra violet light, background radiation, genetics, diet, and a potential of many other subtle and/or profound chemical and physiological changes. These changes could have caused a rapid decline of life expectancy. It had never rained before the flood. Could rain have anything to do with it? May be. Could it be as Tiny Tim said with the Holy Spirit indwelling? Quite possibly (could you provide a reference?) The fact is that people lived longer then, than they do now. If God can make the entire universe with all the laws of physics acting perfectly in sync with one another, then surely he can create a life form that has the potential to have as long or short a life span as He wants.

Further to Q1: Also consider that During the Roman Empire, Romans had an approximate life expectancy of 22 to 25 years. In 1900, the world life expectancy was approximately 30 years, and in 2006 it was about 64 years (source: http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/lifeexpectancy.htm) If you were to tell a Roman way back when, that those people living in Canada in the year 2007 would live past 50, past 80 even, he would never have believed you. Just like you don’t believe Noah’s age of 950. Life expectancy changes. Whether from new diseases, air and water pollution, advances in medicine... A massive flood fits into the category of something that would have major repercussions on global life expectancy.

Q2: How many animals in total were on the arc? No one knows. And you know no one knows. And you know that no one can answer this question enough to satisfy you. If you want to leave behind your faith in God because you don't have this answer, it’s sad, but it's your choice. The number of animals in the arc neither proves nor disproves the existence of God and does nothing to affect our salvation. Sometimes we (we as in everyone, everywhere) have to decide what matters and what doesn’t. And we have to let go of those things that don’t matter and focus on those thing that do.

February 15, 2007 8:33 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

Thanks for replying Tiny Tim and Lily. I will attempt to make my responses short. We'll see how that goes.

First, concerning the “spirit” and its use in Gen. 6:3. The word here probably has nothing to do with the Spirit, as it is used of the prophets in the O.T. or the Holy Spirit, as it is used in the N.T. This word, as also used in Gen. 2:7, is a much older use of the word. It is most likely, if you believe the work done by scholars, referring to “breath” or “life.” A good interpretation of this passage sees it as a simple statement about people not living forever – a 120 year limit.

Secondly, it is good to look at the findings of the Documentary Hypothesis to see what insight it gives us about this passage. Gen. 6:1-4 has been determined to have originated from the Yahwist source (J). So has 2:7. The sections of scripture which refer to people who lived for a very long time (9:29; 11:10-26; 32) come from another source that portrayed heros and legendary figures to have lived well beyond our normal life expectancy. Since the original authors of these sources were writing separate “origins” accounts, we have an apparent contradiction with a simple explanation. It is quite interesting that Moses, hero of the Yahwist source, lived to be 120 years old (Deut. 34:7). Quite cool.

I don't think we need to invent answers to this problematic passage that are merely fabrications based on total speculation. Lily, I'm sorry but there is no evidence whatsoever that any of the conditions you mention are part of earth's history.

Next, Noah and the ark. So far, nobody seems to have a way of explaining the difficulties within the text of Genesis 6:5-8:22. Lily, I don't know how you can presume that "no one can answer this question enough to satisfy" me. I didn't think that I gave the impression that I don't understand these passages. You seem to think that I found a few problematic passages in scripture and abandoned my faith without any serious study. Tiny Tim, I don't think you understand the problem with the flood account and the discrepancy between verses concerning the number of animals in the ark. Try to read the story with fresh eyes and look for the differences.

Gen. 6:19-20 and 7:8-9 (two of each animal) clearly conflict with 7:2-3. An aside: Take notice of 7:15 - the animals had the “breath of life.”

The best solution to this problematic passage is this: There are two flood accounts. One is the “J” source and the other is the “P” source. The redactor of the Pentateuch meshed the two sources together in order to preserve both traditions. If anyone would like for me to write out the two stories separately, I'd be glad to do so. The two accounts can each stand alone independently.

I suggest a reading of “Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliott Friedman. He presents the multi-source hypothesis in less than 250 easy to read pages. This book is sure to challenge the reader but provide insights that will enrich the reading of the O.T.

Next problematic texts: The genealogies of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Matthew has Jesus' grandfather listed as Jacob and a descendant of Solomon. Luke has Jesus' grandfather listed as Heli and a descendant of Nathan. There are other differences, as well. Anyone want to attempt to explain this difference away?


February 17, 2007 11:32 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hi Brent,

I’ll try and keep this short as well (you’ve inspired me ☺):

Age Limits
We don’t need scholars to tell us about the meaning of the Hebrew, all we need is a concordance! ☺ Nonetheless, you’re absolutely right: “spirit” = “breath”. But “spirit” can also mean “spirit of God” in terms of something divine. For example: Exd 31:3 “And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” Judges 14:6 where the Spirit of God came upon Samson so he was able to perform incredible acts of strength is another example. Anyhow, this would be the definition of the word “spirit” that I would personally drop into in Genesis 6. I say this because God isn’t saying in this verse “My breath will no longer be with men…” in terms of the gift of life.

I can’t comment on the multiple authorship of Genesis since we’re not told one way or another who actually wrote it (although Moses is probably the best bet).

The Flood
About the number of animals, maybe I’m missing something. God says take two of every animal but in the case of clean animals, take seven. My understanding of “seven” is “seven pair” and not seven individual animals.

And sure, I’d love to see the two different Flood stories.

Jesus’ Genealogies - Jacob & Heli
Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph and Luke gives that of Mary, making Jacob the father of Joseph and Heli the father of Mary. This is can also be shown by the two narrations of Christ’s birth. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story only from Joseph's perspective, while Luke 1:26-56 is told wholly from Mary's point of view.

Why Joseph is mentioned in both genealogies? The answer is again simple. Luke follows strict Hebrew tradition in mentioning only males. Therefore, in this case, Mary is designated by her husband's name.

February 17, 2007 6:00 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

Here are the two flood stories. Enjoy.

Flood Story (as told by the P source):

9bNoah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14Make yourself an ark of cypress* wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16Make a roof* for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ 22Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. 7:8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 11 In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 13On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons, entered the ark, 14they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature. 15They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. 21And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 24And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days.
8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; 2athe fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, 3b and at the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; 4and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared. 7And she ent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 13a And in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth. 14And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15Then God said to Noah, 16‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ 18So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families. 9:1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. 6Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.
7And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.’ 8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Flood Story (as told by the J source):

6:1 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of the gods saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3Then YHWH said, ‘My spirit shall not abide* in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ 4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of the gods went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. 5 And YHWH saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6And YHWH was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So YHWH said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ 8But Noah found favour in the sight of YHWH. 7:1 Then YHWH said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. 2Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.’ 5And Noah did all that YHWH had commanded him. 7And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 10And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth. 12The rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. 16bAnd YHWH shut him in. 17 The flood continued for forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 22Everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. 8:2b And the rain from the heavens was restrained, 3and the waters gradually receded from the earth. 6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. 8Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. 10He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; 11and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more. 13B And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. 20 Then Noah built an altar to YHWH, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. 21And when YHWH smelt the pleasing odour, YHWH said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ 9:18 The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’ 26He also said, ‘Blessed by YHWH my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. 27May God make space for* Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.’

February 21, 2007 6:12 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

So I'm not to sure what you've done here...? You've taken one account, split them up, and made two stories describing the same account...?

February 22, 2007 12:55 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

Yes. I separated them into the two sources. The "Redactor," who Friedman believes to be Jeremiah, took the two traditions of the story that were part of the Israelite "library" and created one story that combined the elements of both. There may be some info from each that was slightly changed or missing altogether.

Friedman's book is nonthreatening to the Christian tradition and, IMO, enhances the appreciation for the Bible.


February 22, 2007 8:46 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Got it.

February 22, 2007 10:23 AM  
Anonymous tiny tim said...

Is this end of the conversation...?

March 27, 2007 6:52 PM  

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