Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When time and tide wait

A notable example that we probably all agree about is Joshua’s battle during which the sun is said to have stood still (Joshua 10:13). I have never met anyone, not even the most conservative Christian fundamentalist, who takes that literally. And yet, when Copernicus and later Galileo argued that the earth revolves around the sun many Christians argued they were denying the truth of the Bible. We have adjusted our interpretation of Joshua 10:13 to accommodate what we now know about the solar system.
But there are those who will still argue that what the story really means to say (in modern terms) is that the earth stopped rotating for a time. But, of course, we also know from modern science what that would mean for plant and animal life on earth.
Many Christians who take the Bible seriously do not take every story in it literally. Who is to say that a Christian who argues that the Joshua story means neither that the sun literally stood still nor that the earth stopped rotating is not a Bible believing Christian? 

i) To begin with, Olson doesn't care what this passage really means. He doesn't make a good faith effort to ascertain what it means. He's not committed to the text. As he says in this very thread "Shaking off inerrancy was a total liberation for me." He's just using this as a wedge tactic to rationalize his dismissal of other passages which offend him.

ii) Framing the issue in terms of "literal" interpretation is a ruse. The real issue isn't literal interpretation but grammatico-historical exegesis–which may or may not yield a literal interpretation, depending on the text.

iii) To says "we also know from modern science what that would mean for plant and animal life on earth" if God temporarily stopped the earth from rotating is ridiculous. That artificially isolates the event, as if God would do that one thing without regard for its physical ramification. But if, in fact, that's what God did, then he'd make the necessary adjustments. Does Olson apply that objection to Biblical nature miracles generally? To the extent that these are not discrete, self-contained events, a nature miracle will include whatever's necessary to preserve the balance of nature. 

iv) To say Christians don't take it "literally" is dimwitted. As scholars point out, the passage is poetic. It would be nonsensical to construe poetic language literally. And the grammatico-historical method makes allowance for differences in genre. 

Consider a parallel passage:

The sun and moon stood still in their place    at the light of your arrows as they sped,    at the flash of your glittering spear. (Heb 3:11)

That depicts God as a celestial warrior. Thunderbolts are spears and arrows. The imagery is figurative.  

v) Some commentators think the whole passage is figurative. They think it's analogous to Judges 5:20, where stellar combat is a metaphor for earthly combat. 

However, I don't think that does justice to the specifics of Josh 10. It's not that what happens in the sky is a figurative parallel for what happens on earth. Rather, what happens up above makes possible what happens down below. 

vi) Because the passage is poetic, it's hard to identify the "mechanics" behind the miracle. But in context, the miracle involves prolonging daylight to give the Israelites extra time to defeat the enemy. So I think some astronomical miracle is in view.

vii) Finally, it's interesting to compare this with science fiction scenarios in which some characters are almost motionless in relation to other characters because they occupy different timeframes. It's as if time stood still for them, because they are moving so slowly by comparison.   


  1. Speaking of the rotation of the earth, Robert Sungenis' and Rick DeLano's movie in defense of geocentrism is coming out (I believe) this fall. There's a big controversy surrounding it not only because it argues for fringe science but also because many notable scientists are featured in the movie and they didn't know until afterwards that their interviews were going to be included in such a film.

    The scientists include Lawrence Krauss, Max Tegmark, George Ellis, Michio Kaku et al.

    Here's are some of many articles on the topic from the perspective of non-Christian reporting.

    The Conspiracy Theorist Who Duped The World's Biggest Physicists






    The movie's facebook page:

    The movie's website:

    And then there are the various YouTube videos of Sungenis and DeLano that one can simply do searches on.

    As as Protestant I'm open to either geocentrism or heliocentrism. However, it makes perfect sense for Sungenis and DeLano to argue for geocentrism since the Roman Catholic Church has, in many of it's official statements, documents and pronouncements affirmed geocentrism and the earth being stationary. Rome's infallibility hinges on the issue.

  2. Many Christians who take the Bible seriously do not take every story in it literally. Who is to say that a Christian who argues that the resurrection story means neither that Jesus physically rose nor that the dead will rise on the last day is not a Bible believing Christian?

    It's utterly astounding to me that in consideration of all the utterly astounding claims the Bible makes from Genesis to Revelation that professing Christians like Olson apparently only take umbrage with some utterly astounding claims, but are okie-dokie with other utterly astounding claims.