Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Poor Man's Delilah

Ed Babinski sent me another email. An email of a comment he left at another blog.

Ed takes a touching interest in the state of my immortal soul. Not that Ed is trying to save me from hell. Rather, Ed is trying to save me for hell.

Unfortunately for him, Ed is a poor man’s Delilah. He lacks the vital stats that made Delilah an appealing tempter. As Kepler would say, numbers are everything.

If Ed could successfully impersonate Lena Horne singing “Stormy Weather” (in Cabin in the Sky), or Marlene Dietrich singing “Black Market” (in A Foreign Affair), he might at least find a chink in my armor. But the Old Serpent failed to equip his loyal employee with the necessary accoutrements.

However, let’s consider his latest devastating challenge to my flimsy Christian faith:

Hi, I'm uncertain of your name, is it "Jay?"

Isn't the primary question not what you believe but what Paul believed and wrote about, and the author of Revelation? What you believe is of course what you believe, but what about the beliefs of the authors of the Bible?

. . . so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."

(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.

This is mere "imagery" to you, and that's fine. But do you also think it was pure "imagery" to Paul and the author of Revelation?

You admitted in your review that at least some biblical authors believed the entire cosmos was a three-tier affair with heaven above, a flat earth below, and mysterious regions beneath the earth as well. The OT mentions people coming up from the earth, and Job says God sees the spirits in the great deep. The NT makes similar statements in the verses I cited above.

You are agreeing that you do not see things the way the authors of the Bible saw them. You see only worms under the earth, no beings at all. And as telescopes have revealed, the heavens are filled with flying asteroids, comets, stars forming and exploding, even galaxies colliding (google up some pics to see those). And the earth is a tiny lifeboat bobbing perilously in space with earth-orbit-crossing asteroids, and with life-less-boats to our immediate left and right (Venus and Mars).

So we agree. The Bible begins with a non-scientific tale of the creation of a flat earth cosmos, and ends with the non-scientific tale of a heavenly city sent down from God's heavenly abode above our heads, and that between those myths lay some fictional books as well, such as Job.

We also agree that young-earth creationism's literalism is not good for Christianity. So you and I agree with the vast majority of information the I compiled from scholarly sources. If you find any words or sections of my chapter that make sense to you and that you can use to help to awaken other Christians to at least ask more questions concerning their literal interpretations of Genesis 1 and the end of Revelation and Job, then by all means, please use what I have written in part or in whole.

A few quick comments:

1. I don’t regard Job as fiction. I regard Job as stylized history.

2. Since I don’t interpret Revelation the way Tim LaHaye does, I don’t need to adjust my position.

3. The primary issue is not what Bible writers believe, but what Bible writers teach.

4. As a matter of fact, I do “see things” the way the Bible writers saw them. I’m a land-dweller. An earthbound observer. From my viewpoint as a lowly earthling, I, too, see things “up” or “down” in relation to my indexical frame of reference. So does Ed.

5. The Bible doesn’t teach a “flat-earth” cosmos. Rather, as scholars like T. D. Alexander, Gregory Beale, Daniel Block, John Walton, and Gordon Wenham (among others) have documented, the Bible employs architectural metaphors to depict the world as a temple. The imagery is figurative.

6. Since the dead were buried, Scripture uses subterranean imagery to depict the netherworld. That’s a natural convention.


  1. "I don’t regard Job as fiction. I regard Job as stylized history."

    Hooray!! Me too!

  2. What did you say the name of the blog was? Why not link to it? The blog is written by an Evangelical Christian biblioblogger, but you are not in agreement with his views and he is not in agreement with your YEC nonsense. Try and convince that Christian that Job is stylized history, and that the mere fact of burial in the earth was what the OT and NT verses were referring to.

  3. It's not my duty to convince irrational critics.

    Oh, and you initiated this exchange, not me. So it's hardly incumbent on me to name your source. Pull your own weight.

    I also notice that you have no counterarguments. What a surprise. You always measure up to my low expectations.

  4. I like how "non-scientific" = "myth." At least Piltdown man, phlogiston, and cold fusion don't carry that "myth" lable with it.

    Science: the stuff of not-myth.

  5. "lable" = "label" of course. But then, my spelling hasn't taken on mythic proportions yet.

  6. "your YEC nonsense"


    A 6000-year-old view discarded so lightly.

    It makes one chuckle.

  7. Other blogger here.


    (1) The comment about Job's historicity was in the context of God's apparently unscientific statements in the book of Job (e.g., ch. 38). If you have the time, I would be interested to hear how you reconcile such statements with science? Or, since the passage is poetry, do you find it unnecessary to even try to reconcile it with science?

    (2) I'm not sure what your general outlook on Revelation is. I did not go into detail either, other than to say that the images are more symbolic than literal.

    (3) I wrote to Edward: "The primary question, in my opinion, is the intended message of the biblical authors."

    (4) Certainly some passages are from the human perspective but I'm guessing Edward will not find such reasoning persuasive in all cases.

    (5) I have no objection to the assertion that world is depicted as a temple in at least some places in the Bible. But, as Edward will say, that does not mean the authors did not believe the earth was flat.

    (6) I agree that those under the earth are probably the dead in the passages cited by Edward. However, I'm also open to the possibility that some biblical authors thought Sheol/Hades was actually under the earth.

    (7) Since you're a Calvinist, I would be interested to hear your take on John Loftus' claims in ch. 7 of The Christian Delusion regarding God's alleged failure to communicate. See the second to last paragraph for my summary of his claims. If you want more details on his claims just ask and I'll try to provide more information.


    (1) Whether I am an evangelical depends on the definition of evangelical you are using. In the index to my review of The Christian Delusion I stated I was a liberal Christian.

    (2) It is true that I disagree with Steve on things but I actually subscribe to this blog's feed.


    (1) I wrote the following to Edward: "As you can see from some of my reviews on other chapters in TCD, I do not care for the use of the term “myth” unless it is precisely defined, for the term is often more pejorative than informative. I might agree that Genesis 1-11 is myth, depending on the definition one uses. Calling Revelation an apocalypse seems much more helpful than calling it a myth. To be clear, when I say a book or passage is fiction it is not meant in a disparaging way."

  8. Steve said...

    3. The primary issue is not what Bible writers believe, but what Bible writers teach.

    I agree that the inspired human writers of Scripture were (in themselves) fallible and could personally believe cosmological falsehoods/errors and still be inspired to write inerrant Scriptural passages/books.

    Steve, I believe that in the Old Testament the Hebrew word "sheol" often spoke of the conscious "abode" of the disembodied spirits of the dead contrary to Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses who claim it's ALWAYS a reference to the grave (or the common grave of mankind). In actuality the Hebrew word "kever" alone refers only to the grave.

    How would you interpret Numbers 16:30-33?

    30 But if Jehovah make a new thing, and the ground open its mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down alive into Sheol; then ye shall understand that these men have despised Jehovah.

    31 And it came to pass, as he made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them;

    32 and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.

    33 So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into Sheol: and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.

    The passages seems to be saying that even their physical goods went down to sheol. Do you believe that sheol can sometimes refer to the grave and/or the abode of the dead?

    Or is the author's (Moses?) personal belief that sheol is literally and physically below us merely being recorded? Or is this what the author is actually teaching?

    I've always thought of Heaven as "up" and sheol as "down" not in the literal directional sense but in the sense that their realities are at different "planes" of existence or dimensions. Similar to how the number 10 is "higher" than the "lower" number 1.

    But there are some passages in Scripture that have been interpreted by some (like atheists obviously) to go beyond recording the beliefs of the writers of Scripture but to actually teach a three tiered universe. They'll say, "Why else have Jesus ascend "up" into the clouds?"

    Assuming the Chalcedonian definition is correct, then Christ is eternally incarnated such that, since the resurrection he will forever have a human nature in addition to His divine nature. If that's the case, then shouldn't there be a literal physical location to Christ's body after the ascension? Is this where the bodies of Moses and Elijah (and Mary if Catholicism is true ;^) ) are also?

    BTW, I agree with you that this created world is emblematic of spiritual realities. That God created our universe with the future intention and plan to use what we see and experience to teach us spiritual truths.

  9. Jayman said:
    To be clear, when I say a book or passage is fiction it is not meant in a disparaging way

    The problem with that is that if something is NOT fiction and you call it fiction, then it cannot be taken in anything but a disparaging way. So the only way that can be non-disparaging is if it is, in fact, fiction. But that begs the question, doesn't it?

    Secondly, it appears that you have a misplaced focus in assuming that everything must conform to (current) scientific dogma, as if science actually is the arbitur of truth. Yet scientific theories come and go, blown here and there by the wind. What is scientifically orthodox today can be overtunred in a paradigm shift tomorrow. Just look at the history of quantum mechanics, which is a whopping century old. Before that, mechanical determinism ruled the day; now it's probablistic indeterminism. What will it be in ten years? Who knows? But given the track record, we can say it probably won't be what it is now.

    So requiring something to be "scientific" is a bogus standard in the first place. I don't care if something is scientific or not--I care if it's true. Science is only good if it coheres to truth, just as religious belief is only good if it coheres to truth.