Saturday, February 18, 2017

Shiny Pokemon and A Finely Tuned Universe

People who know me personally know that I have been a big fan of the Pokemon games since I was 7 years old, and even though I'm grown, I still play the games and watch the show. In fact, I think there are many 20-30 year olds enjoying these games as there are those in the actual target demographic. I am also a dedicated Christian and rigorous apologist. This blog post is going to meld my passion for Pokemon and Apologetics. Also, I'm going to presuppose that you at least know what The Fine Tuning Argument is, so if you don't, click on this blog post and read the first three paragraphs, then come back to this one. Also, to non-Pokemon players, some of the terminology can sound like foreign language. I'll explain as much as I can, but to keep this article reasonably short, I'll often link to a page explaining the definition of a word.

What Are Shiny Pokemon and How Do You Get Them?

Since the Gold and Silver games, players could put a male and female Pokemon in "The Day Care" to breed their mons. Eventually, The Day Care Man/Woman would alert you if you talked to them again after taking an X number of steps and say essentially "We found your Pokemon holding this egg! We have know idea how it got there!" (because, you know, this game is aimed at children who likely don't know about sex yet), "Do you want it?" and then you can select yes, walk a certain number of steps, and the egg will hatch. Also, since gen 2, players could get certain Pokemon species of an alternate color than their usual colors. These are called "shinies" because when you first encounter them, send them into battle, or hatch them, they will sparkle for a second. Players who want shinies sometimes will purposefully try to get them by obtaining a "Shiny Charm" after completing their Pokedex and some other item (the name of which I can't remember) which will increase their chances of hatching a shiny, and then proceed to just hatch egg after egg after egg after egg after egg until one of the hatched Pokemon is a shiny. Breeding is also helpful for obtaining a Pokemon with certain IVs. IVs stand for "Individual Values" and it's essentially the DNA of a Pokemon which will determine how strong it will be. You can train a Pokemon with poor IVs and perfect IVs in the same way, and the latter will always be stronger than the weaker. Competitive Players (myself included) usually obtain Pokemon this way to beat Battle Facilities post-story (like The Battle Tree in Sun and Moon), and to compete in tournaments.

What Are The Odds Of Getting One?

As for shinies, there is a 1 in 8,000 chance that any Pokemon you encounter or hatch will be a shiny Pokemon rather than a regular one. This is in the situation of not using anything to increase your chances like a shiny charm. When it comes to encountering shiny Pokemon in the wild, I have only encountered 3 in my entire 20 years of playing Pokemon. Hatching Pokemon with items to increase my odds, I have done only once. So, I have obtained a total of 4 shiny Pokemon my entire life.

In the case of hatching a shiny, I used two items; The Shiny Charm, and the one I can't remember the name of, and increased my odds to 1 in 500. Even with a 1 in 500 chance, I still had to hatch nearly 200 eggs before getting my shiny.

What Does This Have To Do With The Fine Tuning Argument? 

Let's say you obtained a copy of a Pokemon game and played it all the way through, from getting your starter from the Professor to becoming Pokemon League Champion, and let's say that every single Pokemon you encountered along the way was nothing but a shiny Pokemon, even your starter. What would your conclusion be? That you were encountering each of these shiny Pokemon by sheer chance? By accident? The RNG just happens to be giving you a shiny Pokemon with each encounter? Of course not! You would immediately suspect that the cartridge had been tampered with by a hacker. Some hacker reprogrammed the game to only give you shiny Pokemon and nothing else. You would never conclude that you were that lucky. Each random counter has a 1 in 8,000 chance of being a shiny, and you just happen to get one every time? No. You would conclude that the game was rigged by some hacker.

When it comes to the universe's constants and quantities, we're not dealing with odds like 1 in 8,000, we're dealing with numbers like 1 in 10^37 (in the case of the ratio of electrons to protons) and 1 in 10^100 (in the case of The Weak Nuclear Force). A 1 with 37 zeroes following it and a 1 with 100 zeroes following it!

If we wouldn't believe that the shiny Pokemon were appearing by chance, why would we believe the universe's physical laws fell into the narrow life permitting range by chance?

To make matters worse, I often find that if I hatch eggs trying to get a certain nature by chance, I spend all day hatching eggs until I eventually get one. Do you know what the odds are of a Pokemon having a certain nature? 1 in 25! Much lower odds than a shiny. And I still can't get it in a mere few tries. This is why I use an Everstone when breeding. I don't have as much faith in chance as atheists do! I have never gotten the right nature on the first try without intelligently designing the process.

The Multi-Verse Rears It's Ugly Head Again

"Well, perhaps if you have an infinite number of universes, eventually one would be finely tuned for life. Since we can only exist in one that has life, we shouldn't be surprised that that's the one we live in" the atheist typically replies to The Fine Tuning Argument. Likewise, one might say "If you just hatch enough eggs, eventually you'll get a shiny." or "Eventually, you'll get the right nature".

While it's true that mathematically, even the most improbable event is certain to occur if you multiply your probabilistic resources, the problem is that we only have evidence for one try. We only have evidence for one universe. There's no way to know whether or not we live in a multi-verse. The multi-verse must be believed on blind faith, something that I, as a rational person, refuses to rest in as an epistemological grounding. If atheists insist on repeatedly appealing to this theory as a refutation to the fine tuning, the least they can do is provide at least a little bit of evidence for it. If not, shut up and go home. I'm not joining your infinite universe religion on blind faith. Only superstitious people believe something without reasons to believe.

Moreover, this doesn't match with the shiny Pokemon analogy given above. The analogy given above is that every Pokemon encountered is a shiny. And truth be told; this likewise can be explained away by appealing to an infinite number of universes. "Oh well. No need to appeal to a hacker. There's an infinite number of universes. There's bound one of those infinite universes where one of the me's encounters nothing but shinies whenever he encounters a wild Pokemon." The multi-verse wouldn't just make chance a plausible alternative for the fine tuning, but a plausible alternative to explain away the nothing-but-shinies situation as well. In fact, you could explain away this entire blog post as a result of chance. You could explain away evidence in a court of law as a result of chance. The Multi-Verse would essentially render a design inference in every single area of life null and void if accepted, and this is one of the reasons why I'm not persuaded by it (other than the lack of evidence). The reductio ad absurdum is legitimate.


If you're an atheist and a Pokemon player, hopefully I've gotten you to think about the unreasonableness of your position in light of the fine tuning of the laws of physics. And if you still have so much faith that chance could create a life permitting universe, then I dare you to never use Everstones, Shiny Charms, or any other RNG rigging items ever again. If you do, you'll be inconsistent.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Heremenuetics 101 - Part 8: The Progressive Revelation Principle

This is part 8 in a series of blog posts on biblical hermenuetics. Hermenuetics is a set of principles for coming to correct interpretations of passages in The Bible. I think a fair analogy would be to compare hermenuetics to the scientific method. Just as there are certain steps a scientist needs to go through before coming to scientific conclusions, a theologian needs to go through certain steps before reaching theological conclusions. If the scientist ignores the scientific method, he'll come to inaccurate scientific conclusions. If the theologian ignores the principles of hermenuetics, he'll come to inaccurate theological conclusions. So far, we've looked at the principle of interpreting verses in light of their immediate context, the principle of interpreting verses within their cultural context, letting scripture interpret scripture, the principle of interpreting a scriptural passage according to the genre of the book, The Grammatical Method, and the principle of interpreting scripture literally unless there are indicators that a non-literal interpretation is more likely. In this blog post, I'll be talking one more principle of hermenuetics and that is:

To Keep In Mind That The Bible Is Progressive Revelation

God revealed Himself to humanity progressively, over long spans of time. He didn't tell us everything about Himself at once. He inspired the books of The Bible over a span of time. Progressive Revelation "...means that God revealed Himself to His people over many centuries, periodically giving new information that built on but did not contradict or deny what came before. For example, the Lord spoke to Abraham and gave him the promise of salvation. Later, He spoke to Israel through Moses, the old covenant mediator, adding the law, which did not overturn the promise but rather reinforced Israel’s hope in the promise (Gal. 3:15–29). After that, the prophets gave more revelation regarding God, and then the Lord’s final revelation came in the incarnation of His Son and the Apostolic writings that explain His person and work (Heb. 1:1–2)." - R.C Sproul (q)

We didn't know God was a tri-une being until the dawn of The New Testament. God gave us two testaments; The Old Testament (OT) and The New Testament (NT). Both the OT and NT are equally inspired and are equally scripture. One testament isn't superior to the other one. This is why I don't understand Christians who only read The New Testament and never look at the old. The New Testament supplements our knowledge of God, it doesn't replace or override it. It is true that some of the things that Old Testament commanded us to do were set aside in the Christian era, such as sacrificing animals in the temple, abstaining from shell fish, stoning adulterous women, and so on, but just because we're not bound by the Old Testament ceremonial laws anymore doesn't mean the Old Testament is irrelevant. For one thing, much of the Old Testament is history. It is the history of God and His plan of salvation for the whole world. It's a continuous narrative that reaches its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in NT. The OT contains a lot of history. Moreover, the OT contains many passages that are universally applicable and aren't just ceremonial rituals intended only for pre-Christian-Israel. The book of Proverbs contains nuggets of wisdom that anyone of any era or nationality should follow. The Psalms reveal much about God and His character, and His goodness through the divinely inspired hymns of David and others. Additionally, there are prophesies about Jesus which confirm that He was who He claimed to be: the messiah, because He fulfilled all of them during His earthly ministry. The Old Testament is important!

To have a fully orbed theology, you need to know both testaments. 2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," (ESV). It says "All Scripture" is profitable, not just some. Not just The New Testament. Not just the Old Testament. All of scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness.

Sometimes Old Testament passages are clearer by reading them in light of The New Testament, and sometimes The New Testament is clearer by pointing to the content of The Old Testament. This is because the OT anticipates the NT and the NT points back to the OT. For example, by reading Hebrews 1, we learn that Psalm 45 is actually about God The Father and God The Son. And by reading the gospels, we can see that Psalm 22 was a prediction of Jesus' crucifixion, as it stretches the bounds of plausibility to think that they just so happened to describe so many of the same details. I say this because often critics will argue that we think Psalm 22 is a messianic prophecy because we're reading it only after reading the gospel accounts of Jesus' crucifixion. They argue that no one before the Christian area would have thought this was a messianic prophesy. I don't know if that's true or not, but even if it is, so what? As Frank Turek put it; sometimes you don't know that a puzzle piece goes with your puzzle until you look at the box top. While the majority of messianic prophesies were certainly clear to Jews before Jesus came, there may have been a few (like Psalm 22) that weren't identified as prophesies until after the fact. The Bible is progressive revelation after all.


That concludes this series on biblical hermenuetics. We've looked at the 7 standard principles of biblical hermenuetics; reading verses in their immediate context, reading passages in their cultural context, letting scripture interpret scripture, reading a book according to its genre, The Grammatical Principle, reading scripture as literal unless there are indicators otherwise, and reading scripture as progressive revelation. If you learn and apply these principles to your Bible study, your false interpretations of The Bible should be kept to a minimum. We're still human, we're still fallible, so this isn't a guide to getting 100% of your doctrines right, but you'll get way more things right than wrong.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 7: Literal Until Proven Non-Literal

This is part 7 on a series on biblical hermenuetics. Biblical hermenuetics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. In the previous blog post, we looked at the principle of examining the grammatical structure of biblical passages. In this blog post, we'll look at the principle of:

Reading A Text Literally Unless There Are Indications Otherwise.

We take God's Word prima facie just as we take a lot of things in our every day life as prima facie unless given good reasons to believe otherwise. This is just common sense. Even the symbols and allegories in The Bible find their basis in the literal meaning of scripture. As my Hermenuetics teacher told me; there's always a literal truth behind every metaphor.

The rule of thumb is to take scripture at its face value meaning unless the rules of hermenuetics we've already looked at in this series suggest otherwise. For example, when Jesus speaks of having fed “the five thousand” in Mark 8:19, this principle would bring us to interpret that as Jesus literally feeding 5,000 people with two fish and two loaves miraculously. Any attempt to spiritualise or allegorise this passage would be illegitimate. There are no indicators that Mark didn't mean anything other than that Jesus literally fed 5,000 people.

Genesis 1 and "The Plain Meaning Of The Text" 

Some of my YEC (young earth creationist) readers at this point may accuse me of being inconsistent as they know I'm an Old Earth Creationist and have been leaning towards Evolutionary Creationism for the last 6 months. Isn't the idea that Genesis 1 is 6 24 hour days the face value reading of the text? To that, I say, yes it is. However, we have good indicators that the face value meaning is wrong. For example, if John Walton's arguments are right, then the calendar day interpretation of Genesis 1 would be incorrect even though the calendar day interpretation is the prima facie meaning of the text. If Walton is right, then we should interpret Genesis not as an account of natural history which took place within 144 hours, and tells of God bringing things into existence, but merely a poetic account of God ascribing function to everything He created. This would be based on The Cultural Context principle that I talked about in part 3 of this series. See John Walton's "The Lost World Of Genesis 1" to hear his whole argument for his view.

Of course, we also have Hugh Ross' "Day Age" interpretation that I used to hold to. I think that if Genesis 1 is meant to be a chronological account of natural history, the days cannot be 24 hours long, because the events of days 3 and days 6 prohibit it. It takes longer than 24 hours for "The Earth" to sprout trees, and on day 6, God created all of the animals and Adam, and then Adam had to name all of the animals, tend a garden, be put to sleep to have "surgery", and then wake up and meet his wife. Phew! What a day! Moreover, there's no "evening and morning" to close the 7th day like there are for the other 6, indicating that we're still in the 7th day. This is especially indicated by what Hebrews 4 says. So even if the YECs are right that this is supposed to be a journalistic account of natural history (contra John Walton), the 7 24 hour day interpretation is still untenable. I go into this in more depth in my blog post "Several Reasons To Think That The Days Are Long Time Periods" 

I find myself nowadays heavily leaning towards The Framework Hypothesis. The Framework Hypothesis says that Genesis isn't a chronological, literal account of natural history. Instead it is a highly poetical account of scripture which has the events of creation arranged topically rather than chronologically. To put it another way, The Framework Hypothesis says that the events are arranged according to theme rather than the actual order God created them in.

Click image to enlarge

As you can see above, on The Framework Hypothesis, the first 3 sets of days correspond to the last 3 days of creation. On days 1, 2, and 3, God is forming the realms that His creatures will dwell in. On days 4, 5, and 6, God fills the realms that He created with creatures. On Day 1, God creates the heavens and the earth (i.e the entire physical universe). On Day 4, God creates the sun, moon, and stars, the bodies that fill the physical universe. On Day 2, God creates the ocean and the sky, and separates them. On Day 5, God creates sea creatures to fill the oceans and He creates birds to fill the sky. On Day 3, God creates the land and the sea. On Day 6, God creates all land dwelling animals and human beings, which live on the land and in forests. So Days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6, all correspond to one another. Is that just a coincidence? It could be, but it doesn't seem plausible.

This isn't entirely foreign to scripture. Most New Testament scholars -- both conservative and liberal --  will admit that the events of Jesus' ministry in the gospels are not arranged in chronological order, but according to theme. The only exception is Luke, because he says outright that his intention was to tell the events in chronological order (see Luke 1:3). I asked myself a while back "If God arranged the events of Jesus' ministry in the gospels thematically instead of chronologically, couldn't He have also done that with the events in Genesis 1?" I think the answer to this question is yes.

Moreover, we see a repetitive theme of the words "Then God said...[blank blank blank] and it was. God saw that [blank] was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the [number] day." This is repeated over and over. It's very rhythmic. It reminds me of childrens' songs like "Old McDonald" where you have "Old Mcdonald had a farm, E, I, E, I, O, and on that farm he had a [blank] with a [animal noise] here and an [animal nose] there..." In the case of Genesis and Old McDonald, you have a repetitive set of words with the only difference being what's inside of the blanks. You don't find this anywhere else in The Bible. This suggests that Genesis 1 was more of a poem about creation rather than a simple telling-what-happened. This isn't to deny that Genesis 1 isn't talking about historical events, just that it may not be supposed to read like a news article.

So, in the case of Genesis 1, I think we do have good reasons for rejecting the face value meaning. There are many indicators in the text that if this is a chronological, journalistic account of natural history, days 3, 6, and 7 had to be long time periods rather than 24 hour days. This would imply that days 1, 2, 4, and 5 are also long time periods. Moreover, there are clues that the author intended to tell us about God's creative activity according to theme rather than according to chronology, suggesting that the Framework View (which St. Augustine held to) is probably correct. In the absence of these indicators that the calendar day interpretation is wrong, we would be unjustified in concluding anything but the calendar day interpretation.

There are a dozen interpretations of Genesis 1. Out of all of them, I find the calendar day view the least bit plausible, and the Functional Creation, Day-Age, and Framework views the most plausible. And of these, I currently lean heavily towards the third one.


That does it for this blog post. Keep checking Cerebral Faith to see the next installment in this series. One good way to do that would be to follow the Twitter account (@CerebralFaith) or like my Facebook page a Cerebral Faith is also on, so if you have a Minds account, you can follow me there at

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 6: The Grammatical Principle

This is part 6 in a series of blog posts on biblical hermenuetics. Hermenuetics is a set of principles for coming to correct interpretations of passages in The Bible. I think a fair analogy would be to compare hermenuetics to the scientific principle. Just as there are certain steps a scientist needs to go through before coming to scientific conclusions, a theologian needs to go through certain steps before reaching theological conclusions. If the scientist ignores the scientific method, he'll come to inaccurate conclusions. If the theologian ignores the principles of hermenuetics, he'll come to inaccurate theological conclusions. So far, we've looked at the principle of interpreting verses in light of their immediate context, the principle of interpreting verses within their cultural context, letting scripture interpret scripture, and the principle of interpreting a scriptural passage according to the genre of the book. There are only two more principles you need to learn in order to get the most out of your Bible. In this blog post, I'll be talking about the principle of:

Examining The Grammar

Sometimes biblical interpretation hinges on the kind of grammar the author used. This is true both of The Bible as well as modern writings. states "Interpreting a passage grammatically requires one to follow the rules of grammar and recognize the nuances of Hebrew and Greek. For example, when Paul writes of 'our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ' in Titus 2:13, the rules of grammar state that God and Savior are parallel terms and they are both in apposition to Jesus Christ—in other words, Paul clearly calls Jesus 'our great God.'" (q)

Methodist Episcopalian theologian Milton S. Terry stated:

"The grammatico-historical sense of a writer is such an interpretation of his language as is required by the laws of grammar and the facts of history. Sometimes we speak of the literal sense, by which we mean the most simple, direct, and ordinary meaning of phrases and sentences. By this term we usually denote a meaning opposed to the figurative or metaphorical. The grammatical sense is essentially the same as the literal, the one expression being derived from the Greek, the other from the Latin. But in English usage the word grammatical is applied rather to the arrangement and construction of words and sentences. By the historical sense we designate, rather, the meaning of an author's words that is required by historical considerations. It demands that we consider carefully the time of the author, and the circumstances under which he wrote.. A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture." -- Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, Wipf & Stock, 199, pages 101 & 103.
Knowing the grammar of a passage can help you figure out what it says.

Figures Of Speech In The Bible

Using figures of speech isn't anything new. People have been using figures of speech since as long as people have been talking. The Bible is full of figures of speech which need to be understood in order to prevent coming to misinterpretations of the text. Some of their figures of speech are common to us, probably because we were influenced by The Bible to use them today in a similar manner we're influenced to keep naming our kids "Matthew" and "Mary". However, some figures of speech are foreign. Whether familiar or unfamiliar, we need to know the the figures of speech in The Bible are so that we can identify them when we come across them.  If we read a statement employing a figure of speech in scripture and we think the author is speaking literally, that will lead to confusion.

Examples Of Figures Of Speech

1: Simile (Resemblance) -- an explicitly stated comparison using the words "like" or "as". 

A simile is an explicitly stated comparison using the words "like" or "as". Whenever you read a statement containing the words "like" or "as", you're reading a simile. Statements like these would be found in verses like 1 Peter 1:24, for example. 1 Peter 1:24 says "For, 'All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,'" (NIV). Here, we see Peter quoting an Old Testament verse that says that people are "like" grass, and their glory is "like" the flowers of the field, and what that means is that just as grass is beautiful and green at one point, but withers and fades later, so people are young and vibrant, but they grow old and die later. The verse is clearly not saying that people are grass, but that people are like grass in this particular aspect.

Another example of simile would be found in Luke 10:3. In this verse, Jesus said to his disciples "Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." (ESV). Jesus used simile here. He said that he was sending them out "as" lambs among wolves.

2: Metaphor (representation) -- a comparison by direct assertion or description

I talked about this a little bit in my blog post "Should We Take The Bible Literally?", and in that blog post, I gave several ways to identify whether a statement in scripture is literal or metaphorical. One way is common sense. Common sense dictates that Jesus doesn't mean He's literally a wooden rectangle with hinges when He says that He is the door (John 10:9), or that Paul meant he was literally hung on a cross next to Jesus when he says "I was crucified with Christ" in Galatians 2:20. Often times common sense can alert us to metaphorical statements in The Bible. But for those times when it's not so obvious, we employ the rules of biblical hermenuetics such as taking a Bible verse in its immediate context, identifying the genre of the book, and being on the lookout for similes.

3: Metonymy ("change of name) -- the substitution of words. 

A Metonymy is when you substitute words when describing causes and effects. When you speak a metonymy, you substitute the cause for the effect and the effect for the cause. One example of metonymy is found in Jesus' Parable Of The Rich Man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31. For brevity's sake, I won't quote the whole parable, but interested readers can click here to read the parable in its entirety. The parable, summed up, is Jesus talking about a Rich Man who had every Earthly comfort he could ever want while alive, in contrast to a poor beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus died and went to Heaven, and the Rich Man died and went to Hell. The Rich Man carried on a short conversation with Abraham and Lazarus, and he begged Lazarus to go tell his brothers not to come there. “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’" (Luke 16:29), the Rich Man said they'd believe if someone returned from the dead (Luke 19:30), so Abraham replied "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 19:31).

In this example, the metonymy is found in verses 29 and 31. Abraham said that the rich man's brothers have "Moses and the prophets". Well, Moses and the prophets had been dead for centuries, so he couldn't have meant that Moses, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, etc. was living among them. What Abraham was referring to was their writings. It was the writings of Moses and the prophets that they possessed. Abraham substituted the causes with their effects. He substituted Moses and the prophets with their writings.

Another example of metonymy is found in the book of Proverbs. "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community." - Proverbs 6:16-19

This is an obvious example of metonymy. The writer says that there are 6 things that The Lord hates, and then goes on to list things like "a lying tongue" and "hands that shed innocent blood" and so on. He's substituting the cause (tongue, hands) with their effects (lies, shed blood). God doesn't hate tongues or hands, He hates the sins that the tongues and hands cause. God doesn't hate feet, He hates the action that the feet do (i.e rush into evil). The causes and effects are substituted for one another.

By the way, this is why I'm unconvinced when Calvinists try to prove to me that God hates unbelievers by appealing to verses like Psalm 5:5 where it says that God hates “all workers of iniquity.” or Psalm 11:5 which says "The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion." . I don't think this means that God actually has hatred for people anymore than Proverbs 6:16-19 teaches that God hates peoples' tongues, and hands, and feet. Rather, I think that Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, and Proverbs 6:16-19 are all employing metonymy. God hates sin, but God loves sinner. God hates evil deeds, but God loves the evil doer. This interpretation fits better with passages that teach God's love for all humanity such as John 3:16, and His atoning death for all people (1 Timothy 2:6, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 2:9). And it avoids the conflict such an interpretation would bring with Romans 5:8 which says that "While we were still sinners" God "demonstrated His love for us" by dying on the cross to atone for our sins. God couldn't actually hate the sinner or else He wouldn't love him like Romans 5:8 says.

4: Synadoche -- (transfer) -- the substitution of ideas

Metonymy and synecdoche are very similar. The distinction is that in metonymy, the exchange is made between two related nouns; in synecdoche, the exchange is made between two related ideas.

Examples: "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob." - Psalm 87:2

Psalm 87 substitutes the part (the gates of Zion) for the whole (Israel). It isn't that God has a special affinity for the entrance to Israel that He does not have for the rest of the place. This is an example of synadoche.

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world." - Luke 2:1

5: Personification-- Assigning personal characteristics to animals or objects.

Examples: "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." - Isaiah 55:12

"When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs? Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water." - Psalm 114

6: Apostraphe -- A direct address to a thing as if it were a person

Examples: “Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!  I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song. 'When you, Lord, went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water." - Judges 5:3-4

"'Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!' declares the Lord Almighty. 'Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones." - Zechariah 13:7

7: Elipsis -- the omission of a word or phrase necessary for the complete thought.

Examples: Matthew 11:18, “For John came neither eating nor drinking.” Being human, John had to eat and drink. What is left out is “declining invitations to eat with others.”

"For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh," - Romans 8:3

8: Hyperbole -- A conscious exaggeration by the author for heightened effect

Examples: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." - John 21:25

"Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’" - Deuteronomy 1:28

9: Litotes -- An understatement or negative to express an affirmation

Examples: "For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." - Acts 1:5

"For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone" - 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15

10: Irony -- using language in an opposite or different meaning than stated for the purpose of ridicule

Examples: "At noon Elijah began to taunt them. 'Shout louder!' he said.'Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.'" - 1 Kings 8:27

“Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!" - Job 12:2

11: Paradox -- a statement of truth in what appears to be a contradiction of ideas.

Examples: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." - Matthew 13:12

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." - Mark 8:35

I should note that a paradox is not an actual contradiction, only an apparent one. In the case of Mark 8:35, the context indicates that Jesus is saying that if you deny Him to avoid martyrdom, you'll actually end up losing your eternal life. If you try to save your physical life by denying that you know Him, you'll end up losing your spiritual life. But if you lose your physical life for Jesus' sake, you'll save both it and your spiritual life.

12: Anthropomorphism -- Ascribing human characteristics to God

Examples: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." - Psalm 19:1

"Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me." - Psalm 59:1

13: Euphemism -- the substitution of an offensive word with one much less offensive

Examples: "After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, 'He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.'" - Judges 3:24

"to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." - Acts 1:25

14: Rhetorical Question -- a question asked which does not expect a verbal response, but one which forces the responder to consider the implications mentally. 

Examples: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" - Jeremiah 32:27

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." - Romans 8:31-34

Looking At The Original Languages 

God's Word started out in tres languages, yo. Those languages were Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. While our English translations are awesome (I prefer the NIV and ESV myself), none of them are perfect. Some translations are better in certain parts of scripture than others. This is why I frequently advise people to check how a Bible passages reads in multiple translations and not to stick with just one (I'm looking at you, KJV Onlyists!). However, even better than looking at multiple English translations is looking at the original language. It is important to study The Bible's word meanings, grammar, and syntax of the original languages for a robust understanding.

Now, I'm not saying we all have to become experts in Hebrew and Greek. No, no. There are a number of tools available such as lexicons, Bible dictionaries, detailed exegetical commentaries and so on, that can provide a deeper understanding of crucial passages. There are even apps that can help you out with this such as Logos Bible Software.


A lot more could be said about studying the grammar of biblical texts, but I think I'll stop here. Keep checking Cerebral Faith to see the next installment in this series. One good way to do that would be to follow the Twitter account (@CerebralFaith) or like my Facebook page a Cerebral Faith is also on, so if you have a Minds account, you can follow me there at

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 5: Knowing The Genre

This is a series on biblical hermenuetics. Hermenuetics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. Just as scientists follow a set of rules called The Scientific Method in order to come to correct scientific conclusions, theologians follow a set of rules in order to come to correct interpretations of Bible passages. We've looked at 3 different principles of hermenuetics so far: looking at a verse in its immediate context, interpreting scripture in its cultural context, and letting scripture interpret itself. In this blog post, we're going to look at another hermenuetical principle which is:

Knowing The Genre

A genre is a certain class which objects belong to. There are different genres of music such as rock, metal, jazz, country, opera, rap, etc. and there are different genres of TV shows; sci-fi, anime, cartoons, soap operas, sitcoms, and so on. If you know the genre, you sort of know what to expect going in. For example, if I know that a musical group is in the rock genre, then I expect fast paced music involving electric guitars, bass, and drums. If I know that a singer is in the opera genre, then I don't expect to hear any of those things. If I know that a TV show is an anime, I don't expect to see the same type of things that I would if I was about to sit down and watch a sitcom. Knowing the genre of something gives you a clue of what you should expect.

There are different genres of books in The Bible. There are history books, poetry books, wisdom literature, apocalyptic books, and epistles (i.e letters). You can get an idea of how to interpret a passage in The Bible if you know what genre the book belongs to. If you know the book is wisdom literature, then you expect to find proverbs and lectures to inform you how to conduct your life. If you know the book is a history book, then you should read it as an account of something that actually happened rather than as a parable (e.g Jesus was literally crucified, and literally rose from the dead because the gospels are Greco-Roman biographies). This is why I'm very reluctant to interpret anything in the book of Revelation as literal. The book of Revelation is a book of the apocalyptic genre, and the apocalyptic genre is known for sending messages via bizarre imagery and symbolism. I'm ten times more inclined to interpret things symbolically when I read Revelation than I am when I read Matthew or Exodus.

The main genres found in The Bible are these: law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, epistles, prophecy and apocalyptic literature.

Genres Of The Bible And How To Interpret Them 

History -- As we saw in part 3 of this series, The Bible wasn't intended to teach us science, but it was intended to teach us history; specifically, the history of God and His plan of salvation for the Israelites and for the world. The Bible's historical narrative starts with the creation of the universe, goes into the first sin committed by the first humans, and culminates in God restoring everything in Revelation. "Paradise lost in Genesis is paradise restored in Revelation." as Frank Turek likes to say. Almost every biblical book contains at least some history, but the books that have the main purpose of telling history are Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Acts. Given that these books are intended to record the history of God's people, knowledge of secular history (from both written documents and archeological finds) can both verify the events of The Bible and give us insight in how to interpret the passages (as we saw in part 3). Having knowledge of the culture of the time periods that these book take place and were written can illuminate the text's meaning.

Narrative  -- This is basically a different version of the historical genre that I talked about above. The Narrative genre includes Ruth, Esther, Jonah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Law -- The reason the law was given was to express God's will to the Israelites about government, priestly duties, social responsibilities, and so on. Knowing about the manners and customs of the Hebrews during that time period as well as knowing about covenants will help in coming to a firm understanding of these biblical books. The books of the law are probably the most misunderstood books of The Bible, and a lot of the "proof" that The Bible is "evil" given by the atheists I've met on the internet often come out of either Deuteronomy or Leviticus.

Poetry -- The poetry books of The Bible contain all sorts of metaphors and parallelism and rhythmic prose, which makes sense especially in the case of the book of the Psalms because "Psalms" means "Songs". These weren't simply scriptural passages to the ancient Israelites, they sung these during temple and synagogue services. They were songs to be sung. But aside from Psalms, other poetry books include Song of Solomon and Lamentations. The vast majority of the Psalms were written by David, who was a musician himself. Other Psalms were written by Moses. One problem with poetry is that it doesn't translate easily and as a result we lose some of the musical “flow” in English. Nevertheless, we find a similar use of idiom, comparison and refrain in this genre as we find in modern music.

Epistles -- An epistle is a letter, usually in a formal style. There are 21 letters in The New Testament written by apostles such as Paul, Peter, and John. Some letters are written to churches such a Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Esphesians. Other letters are written to individuals such a 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. The New Testament epistles are a lot like modern letters in that they all have an opening, a greeting, a body, and a closing. Often the epistles are correcting false teaching that arose within the churches they founded, at other times they are rebuking members of the church for immoral behavior and instruct them on how to conduct their lives morally. Sometimes an epistle is written to clarify doctrinal confusion. Knowing the cultural, historical and social situation of the original recipients of these epistles is important.

Prophesy -- Books in this genre are Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, and Joel. They are long discourses from the prophets that include predictions of future events, warnings of coming judgment, and an overview of God’s plan for Israel. Many of the messianic prophesies that Jesus fulfilled are contained in these books (e.g Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53).

Apocalyptic -- Just as Narrative is a different version of History, The Apocalyptic Genre in The Bible is a different version of Prophesy. Unlike the Isaiah or Ezekiel, apocalyptic books like Daniel and Revelation predict future events using imagery and symbolism.

Examples Of Knowing The Genre Leading To Correct Interpretations

Example 1: Mark Your Calendars! Sea Monsters Are Coming!

I remember William Lane Craig, during his defenders class, telling his students of why knowing the genre of scripture is important, and he mentioned that when he was a teenager and a relatively new Christian, he struggled with the book of Revelation. He said "When I first became a Christian I thought that the book of Revelation literally described sea monsters who were going to come up out of the ocean at the end times and take over the world! Seven headed beasts and so forth! But as you begin to understand the type of literature that the book of Revelation represents – namely, Jewish apocalyptic literature – then you realize that apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic and figurative and therefore it would be a mistake to take it literally." (quote from here) I couldn't help but chuckle when I heard Craig say this because I could only imagine an 18 year old William Lane Craig sitting with his Bible on a summer's eve, scratching his head thinking "What in tarnation are you talking about, John?" Not sure if he would have used the word "tarnation", but, oh well.

The point is, genre is important. If you think Revelation is a history book rather than apocalyptic literature, you're going to come to some bizarre and erroneous conclusions.

Example 2: Genesis 1-11

One of the reasons I can't accept the allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is because it seems inconsistent to interpret the rest of the book as a history book and exempt the opening chapters. Now, I think it's very plausible to think that a lot of the descriptions and imagery in Genesis is metaphorical or poetic, but I think proper hermenuetics compels us to believe that the events here are historical. It is possible after all, to describe events that actually happened using less than literal language. For example, I can imagine a poet writing about 9/11 and describing the hijackers as "wretched demons in the sky", but that doesn't mean they were horned monsters with wings. Of course, there are other reasons for rejecting Genesis 1-11 as allegory or a parable, such as the genealogies in the Old and New Testaments linking Adam to indisputably historical characters like Abraham and Jesus. A symbol cannot give rise to a historical individual. However, knowing that the genre of Genesis is historical also prompts me to read the account of Adam and Eve and Noah as historical. But again, it is possible for some of the descriptions of what happens (e.g Adam being made from dust, Eve being made from his side) to be metaphorical, but the events themselves aren't. Genesis 1-11 could be "Poetic History" as Tremper Longman III characterized it. If Genesis 15 is history, what grounds do we have for saying Genesis 2 and 3 aren't?


That does it for this blog post. I still have two more principles of hermenuetics to examine before this series comes to its conclusion. Keep checking Cerebral Faith for the next entry. A good way to keep up with new Cerebral Faith blog posts would be to follow the Twitter account (@CerebralFaith) or like my Facebook page at Cerebral Faith is also on, so if you have a Minds account, you can follow me there at

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Heremenuetics 101 - Part 4: Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture

This is part 4 of a series on biblical hermenuetics. Hermenuetics is the art and science of biblical intepretation. It is a set of rules that you should apply when reading The Bible in order to come to correct conclusions about what it says. It is similar to the scientific method. Just as the scientific method is a set of rules to apply in order to come to correct scientific conclusions, heremenuetics is a set of rules to apply in order to come to correct theological conclusions. In the previous blog post, we looked at the principle of interpreting scripture in light of its historical context, which is reading scripture the way the original author and audience would have understood it. We saw various examples of how knowing the culture of the time the text was written illuminated our understanding of it. In this chapter, we will be looking at the principle of:

Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture

We know that The Bible is divinely inspired based on its own testimony (1 Timothy 3:16) and various arguments as well (see my blog post "5 Reasons To Believe The Bible Is Divinely Inspired"). Given that that is the case, it would be impossible for scripture to make an error. The Bible is inerrant because it is divinely inspired. God cannot make mistakes because He is a Maximally Great Being (see "The Ontological Argument For God's Existence"), and a Maximally Great Being would not be capable of making mistakes because a being who always does things right is greater than one who commits blunders. If God cannot err, and The Bible comes from God, it follows logically that The Bible cannot err. Therefore, if we find a verse in The Bible that seems to contradict the rest of scripture's teaching on the subject matter, we should interpret this anomalous verse in light of the numerous clear passages.

Examples Of Scripture Interpreting Scripture

Example 1: James 2 and Works Based Theology

The book of James has always been a favorite of those who advocate for salvation by works, because what he says in chapter 2 seems to support salvation by works. For example, in verse 14, he says "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?"  and in verse 26, he says "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." And throughout the entire chapter, he talks about the importance of good works. How Abraham was considered righteous by what he did by obeying God to sacrifice Isaac on the alter (verses 21-23), and he rhetorically asks what good it would be if someone came to your door being in need of clothes and food, but you simply send him away saying "Be warm and well fed." He says "Faith without works is dead". Doesn't this teach works based salvation?

Well, there's actually more than one hermenuetical principle that shows us that this is not what James is talking about. The first one is the principle this blog post is about; namely to let scripture interpret itself. Various passages of scripture explicitly state that a man is saved by faith alone and that works plays no part.

First, we have Ephesians 2:8-9 which says “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear cut; we are saved by God’s grace. God’s grace regenerated us or made us born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17) when we placed our faith in Him. Once we placed our faith in Jesus, God’s grace regenerated us, and God forgave us and adopted us as His children (John 1:12). Ephesians says that we weren’t saved because we did any good works. The passage implies that if we could be saved by good works, we’d have something to boast about. We could go on and on in the afterlife about how much better we were than other saints that were there. “Yeah, you did some nice things Bob. But you should take a look at my spiritual resume." However, we have nothing to post over because we're not saved by our good works. I honestly don't know how anyone can read Ephesians 2:8-9 and not come to the conclusion that Paul is teaching justification by faith alone. “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It doesn't get any clearer than that.

Secondly, in Paul's epistle to the Romans, he says you have Paul saying “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin’.” – Romans 4:1-8

In this passage, Paul basically says that salvation is a gift from God, and we don't work for it, for if we did, then it would no longer be a gift. It would no longer be grace. He uses the comparison of an employer and an employee. When an employer gives an employee his wages, he isn't giving him a gift. He's giving his employer his due. He worked hard for that money, so the employer is obligated to pay up. But we know salvation is a gift, not a wage. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23). Death is the wage for sin. We do get into Hell because of our works (our bad works), but we don't get into Heaven because of works. We get into Heaven because of God's grace which he bestows upon us through faith in Him.

Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Our righteous acts are like filthy rags to God. Have you ever tried to clean something with a dirty rag? I have. All it does it move the dirt around. It doesn’t get anything clean. In order to clean the thing that needs to be clean, you need a clean rag. If the rag is filthy, all you’ll be doing is moving the dirt around. In the same way, we’ve been made dirty by the stains of our sins.

So, Ephesians 2, Romans 4, and Isaiah 64 all teach that salvation cannot be obtained through good works. There are actually a lot of other passages which say the same thing, but I won't cite them for the sake of brevity. But then, what about James 2? It seems to contradict all of these passages? If we let scripture interpret itself, we won't let the seemingly works based language allow us to conclude that James is teaching works based theology. The Holy Spirit would not say one thing on one book and then contradict Himself in another book.

The principle of taking scripture in its immediate context is relevant here as well. Who is James speaking to? At the very start of this epistle, we find that James is writing to Jewish people who were scattered abroad (1:1), which were people who lived their lives in legalism. They were taught by their religious leaders that they had to earn God's favor by keeping the law of Moses. Then they received the gospel; the good news that God loves them even though they're sinners and that He sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to absorb the penalty for their sins so that they wouldn't have to. The price was paid by His shed blood. All they had to do was place their faith in Him. Unfortunately, these new Christian Jews had gone from one extreme to the other. Now instead of straining themselves to live morally perfect lives so that they can gain the favor of God, they've gone to the other extreme of moral lazyness. They've reduced Christianity to a mere creed. As long as you believe God exists, Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead, etc. etc, you'll be saved. It doesn't really matter how you live. That is what James was dealing with here. He compared their faith to the person who promises to help, but then does not fulfill that promise (verses 15-16).

They are somebody who just give intellectual assent to Christ and His words, but they don't keep His commandments. James tells us that this is a worthless faith. It's dead. James says in verse 19 that even the demons believe God exists, but they're under His judgment. The implication is that James' readers have a belief that doesn't differ from that of the demons; they accept the truths of Christianity, but live lives of immorality.

So is James teaching works based theology? He's definitely putting a heavy emphasis on good works, but not for salvific reasons. James is teaching that a true faith, a true, genuine saving faith, will produce good works in time. A tree is supposed to produce fruit. If it doesn't produce fruit, we conclude that the tree is dead. Likewise, a regenerated person is supposed to produce the fruits of The Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If he doesn't, the reason must be because he doesn't have genuine saving faith. Fruit doesn't produce trees, but trees are supposed to produce fruit. Good works don't produce salvation, but salvation produces good works. Even Paul agrees that we should do good works. Immediately after saying that we're saved by grace alone through faith alone, he says "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Good deeds don't save people; saved people do good deeds. It's interesting to note that both Paul and James draw on Abraham's obedience to God to make their point. Abraham believed God, and was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham's faith is what made him righteous, but then after having faith, Abraham acted on it by performing a work. A good work flowed from Abraham's faith, and good works should flow from our faith as well. This is what James is saying.

Example 2: Hate your family if you want to be my follower?

Luke 14:26 is a verse non-Christians love to poke at. It says "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple."  

Wait, what? We can't be followers of Jesus unless we hate our family? "Like, OMG! Jesus is literally preaching hate! This proves that Jesus is immoral and The Bible is immoral!" says the non-Christian. Not so fast! Let's let scripture interpret itself. Everywhere else The Bible, and Jesus Himself places a strong emphasis on love. In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus said "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." In Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:27, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18, which tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. What's more, 1 John 4:20 says that if we say that we love God while harboring hatred in our hearts towards someone, we are liars and the truth isn't in us. 1 John 3:14-15 says that if you hate someone, you're a murderer at heart and therefore have no eternal life in you.

Given all of these biblical passages condoning love and condemning hate, it is extremely unlikely that Jesus is commanding us to literally hate our family members. Moreover, we know that Jesus often spoke metaphorically. When he told us to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands if these body parts offend us (Matthew 5:29-30), I don't know anyone who thinks Jesus was really saying we should maim ourselves.

It is most likely the case that Jesus is speaking either metaphorically or hyperbolically. Perhaps Jesus is simply saying that we should love Him so much that it seems like we hate everyone else by comparison. Of course, we don't need to guess, the parallel passage in Matthew's gospel makes it clear this is indeed what Jesus means. "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37).

Example 3: Giving Birth Earns You Salvation? 

Once while I was reading through The New Testament, I came across a very bizarre verse. "But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (1 Timothy 2:15). What? Women are saved through child bearing? What is that supposed to mean? Is Paul saying that for a woman, giving birth is her ticket into Heaven? Well, whatever it means, it probably doesn't mean that. After all, The Bible says in numerous places how we're saved. We're saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4) in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18, John 3:36). If we confess with our mouths "Jesus is Lord" and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). Having Jesus or not having Jesus is what determines whether we have life (1 John 5:12). Given that this is the case, it cannot be the case that a woman earns salvation through giving birth. We already know what The Bible does not say based on what it does say everywhere else! That's what it means to let scripture interpret scripture. This is an unclear passage. We know what it does not say based clear passages.

John Piper wrote an article giving an explanation of what this verse means. You can read it by clicking here. John Piper sums up his interpretation as follows:

"Even though many women today and in history may feel the ongoing effects of the curse in the pains of childbirth and the lifelong wounds that it may leave, I urge all of our Christian sisters not to despair. God’s word to you is hope, not curse. God’s plan for you is salvation not destruction. Yes, just as the man must work out his salvation through the cursed futilities and miseries of his labor (Genesis 3:18–19), millions of women must find her salvation through the pains and miseries of childbearing. The path of salvation is the same for her as for all the saints: 'continuing in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.' Jesus Christ is the Savior who became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). The sting of the curse has been removed. ....At the last day every vestige of the curse will be undone and every wound will be healed. That is part of what it means to be saved through faith in Christ."
 Again, this is just a summary Piper's exegesis. For a fuller explanation, read Piper's article "How Are Women Saved Through Childbearing?" 

If we hadn't let scripture interpret itself, we might have built a heretical works based doctrine from 1 Timothy 2:15. However, we knew what scripture clearly teaches about salvation, and this prompted us to take another look at the text.


When you come across difficult passages, turn to the rest of scripture and see what it has to say. Does 1 Timothy 2:15 teach that women will get into Heaven by having babies, well, the rest of scripture says no, so it very likely doesn't. Is Jesus endorsing hatred in Luke 14:6, well, He emphasizes love everywhere else, so very likely no. Interpret unclear passages of scripture in light of the clear.

By the way, often times even terminology can be learned from scripture. As Mel Lawrenz of Bible Gateway said "When you read a passage and wonder what 'resurrection' really means or 'the kingdom of God' or 'sexual immorality' or 'Passover' or 'antichrist' or 'marriage,' there is one place to turn: the rest of the Scriptures." (quote from here)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 3: Understanding The Cultural Context

This blog post is one part in a series on biblical hermenuetics. In the introduction to this series, I explained what biblical hermenuetics is and why it's so important. In the previous blog post, I talked about the principle of reading Bible verses in context. In this blog post, I'm going to look at another hermenuetical principle which is:

Understanding The Cultural Context

We are very far removed in time from the times and places that The Bible talks about. As such, it can be easy to read a statement in light of how we would understand it in modern times. But we need to try our best to avoid doing that. As John Walton has said "The Bible was written for us, but it wasn't written to us." After all, "The book of Romans isn't called The book of Romans for no reason."  The content of the book of Romans was intended for all people of all ages, but nevertheless, Paul was writing specifically to the church in Rome. The various books that make up The Bible were written to various different groups of people in various different periods of time. In order to get the best understanding of what scripture is saying, we need to try to step into the shoes of an ancient Israelite or a first century Jew. This is also known as "The Cultural Context Principle" of hermenuetics (here on out, CCP). We need to interpret scripture the way the original author would have understood it, and how the original audience would have understood it.

How Do You Know What The Cultural Context Is? 

Sometimes it isn't possible to have a thorough view of the culture from The Bible alone. You can certainly get ideas of the culture from The Bible, but looking at extra-biblical documents from the time period of the biblical event can give you a much broader view of what life was like at the time. For example, we know various things about how the government worked in first century palestine from the writings of people like Josephus and Tacitus. Archeological finds can also inform us of what the culture was like at the time. For the non-scholar, it's usually best to have a concordance on hand as it will generally inform you about things like this. Looking into material from biblical scholars can also be informative. Get yourself Bible dictionary, Bible encyclopedia, and perhaps some good commentaries that provide reliable historical background of people and places. I found that Craig Evans' book "Jesus And His World: The Archeological Evidence" was very informative. I learned things about the society Jesus grew up and lived in that I didn't know before, and it really helped me see some of the passages of scripture in a way that I hadn't before.

Examples Of Historical Context Illuminating The Meaning Of Scripture

Example 1: Abraham's Hospitality in Genesis 18 

In Genesis 18, Three Strangers come to see Abraham. We later find out that these three strangers were God appearing in human form (a theophany) and two angels appearing in human form. Abraham rushes out to greet these travelers and invites them back to his tent for a place to rest. He goes to Sarah and tells her to make a meal for them, and she does so. Afterwards, they reveal to Abraham who they are and tell him that Sarah will give birth to a child. Now, from our modern perspective, this seems really odd. Three people you don't even know come walking by and you just invite them over for dinner? Who does that? "Hey there, whoever you are, come to my house to rest and get some free food!" A nice gesture, but it seems out of the ordinary to our modern sensibilities. However, Abraham's behavior makes perfect sense when we have a historical understanding of how strangers were treated in the society and time period in which Abraham lived.

Lyndon Shook, of Grace Biblical Counseling Ministries writes "What we can learn from historical custom is that Abraham was acting according to accepted practices when he greeted strangers by running out and bowing before them, feeding and protecting them. His hospitality was consistent with honorable character in his day. Without historical context we are left thinking that Abraham is rather strange and obsessive in his behavior." (quote from here).

It was common in that day to welcome travelers into your home for rest. An article from Theology Of Work project says "Seminomadic life in the country would often bring people from different families into contact with one another, and the character of Canaan as a natural land bridge between Asia and Africa made it a popular trade route. In the absence of a formal industry of hospitality, people living in cities and encampments had a social obligation to welcome strangers." We know these things from evidence both from inside and from outside The Bible.

Example 2: Head Coverings 

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head." - 1 Corinthians 11:4-6

This verse is used often by Pentecostals to keep womens' hair long, and to keep their heads covered during services. A woman who doesn't wear something over her head in church or who has short hair is considered by Pentecostals to be sinning. Pentecostals misinterpret this passage because they fail to understand the cultural context. What Paul is talking about in this biblical passage is a thing in the culture of Corinth that Paul was permitting in order to prevent disruption in the Corinthian church. If a woman shaved her hair, her shaved head was considered disgraceful. A woman's hair was her "glory" (1 Corinthians 11:15). In the culture of Corinth, women had a covering for their heads to symbolize submission to their spouses. What Paul does here is merely affirm the correctness of that. To get rid of the head coverings wouldn't send the right message to that culture. In fact, in verse 6, Paul says that if a woman refuses to wear a covering, she might as well shave all of her hair off! A woman who refused to wear a head covering in that time and place was essentially saying, by her action, that she wasn't going to submit herself to the order of God.

In light of the cultural context, we can see that a woman who has short hair or doesn't wear a hat in church isn't doing anything wrong. Unlike most commands in scripture, this is a cultural mandate, not a universal moral demand. While the moral principle behind the cultural mandate is true at all times and all places (i.e that a woman should submit herself to her husband and God), the precise manner in which this is expressed (i.e having long hair and a head covering) is restricted to the Corinthian culture of the first century.

Example 3: I Go To Prepare A Place For You 

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." - John 14:2 (KJV)

In this passage, Jesus is giving a discourse at the last supper. In John 14:2, he tells the disciples that He's going to prepare a place for them in His Father's house. He's obviously talking about Heaven. And while you can get a basic understanding of what Jesus is talking about here even without knowing the cultural context, the cultural context actually shows that there's deeper meaning to what Jesus is saying. Yes, He's saying He's going to Heaven to get things ready for us, but it goes beyond that.

In the ancient Jewish culture, a man would go to his family home and "prepare a place" for his bride before they were married so he had somewhere to take her once they were married. It's that language that Jesus used to the Jewish people of "I'm going to prepare a place for you". This corresponds nicely to those biblical passages affirming that we are the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:7-9).

That cultural marriage picture is also seen in this: the groom would offer his intended bride (afterpaying the brideprice), a cup of wind. He was saying, "I offer you this cup, I love you, I offer my life". The bride could take the cup and drink it, signifying that she accepted his offer, accepted his life and his love. By drinking it, she was saying that she accepts his gift, and she gives him her life in return. Wow! There was a whole layer of meaning under Jesus' words that we didn't even know about sans knowledge of the cultural context!

Example 4: Hot Coals, Yo!

Proverbs 25:22 says "For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee." (KJV)

At first, this looks like a really mean way to punish someone. However, back in those days in that place, a young man in town would go around early in the morning from house to house passing out hot coals (i.e embers) to allow the wives to start their morning fires. The pot containing the coals would warm him up, and he would consider this a blessing if the morning was cold. The verse that comes right before verse 22 speaks of doing kindnesses to enemies, so in light of both the immediate context and the cultural context, this verse of The Bible makes a lot more sense.

Example 5: Accomadationism 

As some of you know, I've recently moved away from Concordism to Accomadationism. What is accomadationism? As I addressed in a previous post, Accomadationism teaches that God did not intend to teach us science, and instead spoke His theological truths using the false cosmology of the Israelite's day. He did this because if He gave scientifically accurate pictures of the world, He would have just simply confused the Israelites and they would have been so hung up on -- what would be to them -- bizarre views of the cosmos, like a spherical Earth, a sky with nothing solid to hold the clouds and stars up, and other scientific truths we take for granted today. Let's say that God used evolution to bring about life ((we'll leave it an open question whether or not He did)). If He did, and He put that in Genesis 1 or some of the other creation passages, the Israelites would have puzzled, and puzzled, and puzzled over how an ape could eventually give rise to a man, or a how birds could eventually become Dinosaurs. They would have seen these things as absurd and bizarre, and they would have totally missed the point of the creation narrative: That God is the Creator of all things, that He is sovereign, that the sun, moon, and stars are not gods in themselves, but mere creations of God, that mankind was created in His image, etc. etc. These are the theological truths God wanted to convey in Genesis 1.

Accomadationism posits that God was not concerned to correct the faulty science of the ancients during the time scripture was written. The ancient Israelites, as well as their neighbors, held to a sort of flat earth, dome cosmology, and you find this sort of cosmology in scripture (see the graphic below). On Accomadationism, God allowed these scientific misconceptions to get into scripture because correcting them wasn't relevant to the points God was trying to make, and moreover, if He made these corrections, the people of that time would have quibbled amongst themselves about how these things could possibly be true, and they would have missed the whole point that the scriptural passages like Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 were trying to convey.

An artistic depiction of how ancient Hebrews saw the world and The Biblical passages describing aspects of it
God's point in Genesis 1 is that He is the Creator of everything that exists. Nothing came into being except through God's creative power. If God had described the natural world correctly, contradicting the common wisdom of the day, then the people of that day and age would have been distracted, arguing and wondering how the sky could hold water if there's no vault up there, or how people don't fall off the Earth if it's a sphere. God, in His wisdom, accommodated their scientific misunderstandings so that they would not miss the forest for the trees, and instead focus on the essential truths God was trying to convey.

This means that, for example, when we read passages like God "stretches out the heavens like a tent" (Psalm 104:2), it would be eisegesis to read Big Bang cosmology into that and say that it's referring to the expansion of the universe. While I've made this argument in earlier blog posts, I no longer believe that it's sound.

When I was a concordist, I held that the ancients would interpret scripture passages about nature in scientifically inaccurate ways, but that the texts are really saying something else, something we wouldn't discover until thousands of years later. This is also what Hugh Ross told Kent Hovind in their debate back in 2,000. But the problem I now find with that approach is that it seems to make parts of scripture totally inaccessible to most of church history! This logically entails that only 20th century theologians would actually be able to get at what these passages are saying, and even Hugh Ross emphasizes that God intended The Bible for all generations. It's sort of parallel to futurists asserting that only people approaching the end times would be able to get a grasp on what all the bizarre imagery in the book of Revelations is about; that things like moving statues are a prediction that there will be an animatronic of the anti-Christ! Of course, you might say "That's true, but the science The Bible talks about isn't that important anyway. They could get the theological truth God was trying to convey even if they didn't get the scientific truth." But, if you say that, then why not just become an accomadationist? If teaching accurate science in scripture wasn't important to God in 500 B.C why would it be important in 2016 A.D?

I became an accomadationist precisely because the rules of proper hermenuetics compelled me to it. It would be utterly inconsistent of me to use the principle everywhere else in scripture, but abandon it whenever reading Bible passages about the natural world. To adhere to the cultural context principle everywhere else but exempt it when The Bible speaks of nature would actually be a logical fallacy called special pleading, which I talked about during my logical fallacy series. If we're to be consistent exegetes, then we should read Bible passages in their historical context and not arbitrarily exempt passages.

Objection: Isn't This Just A Modern Idea Influenced By Secularistic Thinking? Now, some might object that accomadationism is just a cave in to the modern scientific world, that it's a liberal idea pressured by the skeptics who say that The Bible is scientifically innacurate or a liberal idea sculpted by pressure from evolutionary theory. But this is simply false. Accomadationism is at least as old as the protestant reformation itself!

John Calvin appealed to accommodation quite often. Below is a passage from his commentary on Genesis, in which he talks about the relative sizes of the Sun, Moon, and Saturn, in connection with Gen 1:16, which speaks of the “greater light” and the “lesser light”:

“[Moses] assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament. Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. … If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage." 

When I was a concordist, I thought Moses called the "Greater Light" and "Lesser Night" by those names due to differing luminosity, rather than sizes, but ancients held that the moon really was bigger.

It's a relief to know that theologians hundreds of years ago like John Calvin held to accomadationism. This shows that this isn't some liberal idea conjured up in the 21st century to harmonize science and scripture, but can be a theologically valid idea. After all, neither John Calvin nor his contemporaries knew anything about the age of the Earth or evolution.

Objection: Doesn't This View Forfeit Inerrancy? 

When I read the works of accomadationists, I got very uncomfortable. I thought to myself "Well, great. Now I'm caught between sound heremenuetics and my commitment to biblical inerrancy. What'll I do?" I thought admitting that The Bible contained outdated cosmology was to concede the inerrancy debate to the skeptics. The thing is, we need to understand what we mean by inerrancy. What is inerrancy? According to the previous version I held, The Bible was inerrant in everything it said. However, some define it as "The Bible is inerrant in everything that it intends to teach." On that definition then, we'd also have to ask the question "What does The Bible intend to teach?" It certainly intends to teach us theological truths; truths about God. It also intends to accurately record historical events. After all, many theological truths are grounded in historical events. The theological doctrine of the atonement is grounded in Jesus' death and resurrection, for example. It intends to teach us moral truths as well (e.g The Ten Commandments). But does it intend to teach us science? I don't think so. Only if it intended to teach us science, would it be in error when it talks about things like the solid dome sky. If God didn't intend to be a science teacher, there's no problem.

God knew that we would find out the truth about the universe through scientific investigation eventually. Therefore, He didn't need to tell us these things in His word. He gave us two books; the book of scripture and the book of nature. What we don't learn from one, we can learn from the other.

For More Information On Accomadationism

A lot more could be said on the subject of concordism and accomadationism. For those interested, check out the following articles, mostly by the bloggers at BioLogos.

"From The Mailbag: Why Would God Allow Scientific Errors In The Bible?" -- Various Authors.

"The Ancient Science In The Bible" - by Denis Lamoureux

"The Firmament Of Genesis 1 Is Solid, But That's Not The Point." - by Peter Enns

"A Critique Of Hugh Ross' Interpretation Of Genesis 1" - by Richard Bushey


We've seen 4 good examples of how knowing the cultural context can enhance our understanding of The Biblical text.