Please don’t create unnecessary division among believers over God’s creation!

A response to AiG’s article “Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?

ArgueThere is a huge cultural chasm between our culture and the cultures of the Old Testament and that chasm is often presents obstacles as we seek to understand the text of Scripture.  Translators of the OT face these obstacles in most passages of the OT as they try to communicate its words into English. To overcome these obstacle, translators look at ancient translations of the text, read ancient commentaries about the text, look at archeological evidence, look at variant texts, etc… to better understand the text they are trying to translate. And sometimes they are still left choosing between several possible alternatives. And even when meaning of a text is easily understood, it is still never as precise as our English translations of the text would make it appear. Biblical Hebrew uses a much smaller vocabulary (about 8000[i] words) than does English (about 1,000,000[ii] words). Furthermore, Old Testament Hebrew is a language that is rich with synonyms which further reduces its effective word count. To compensate for the much smaller vocabulary, most words in Biblical Hebrew have much broader ranges of meaning than do their English equivalents. For example, the same word in Hebrew can be translated “to carry, to lift, to support, to forgive, to marry, etc…” Additionally, there are far fewer verb tenses in Biblical Hebrew and they are much more fluid than they are in English. One of the challenges of Biblical Hebrew is trying to understand which verb tense was intended in a given text. For example, most translations of Hosea 1:10b read “And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.” Most people would be surprised to learn that the conjugated Hebrew verb for “it was said” and for “it shall be said” are identical in the Hebrew text. The change of tense was a choice made by the translator, and there is some debate about what tense was intended.[iii] The broad range of meaning of Hebrew words, and the fluid use of verb tenses are just a few of the challenges faced by biblical Hebrew scholars.

While Hebrew scholars often hold strong opinions about the intended meaning of the passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures, they also tend to approach scholarly debate with a lot of grace when challenging those who hold differing opinions because they also recognize how many questions are still unanswered. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of your own position is critical to honest debate. When looking at the Genesis account, these scholars recognize that many of the questions we have about how and when creation took place are simply not answered as neatly as we might desire and, while they often have strong opinions about how these passages should be understood, they recognize that there is room for an abundance of grace for those who have come to different conclusions. When Hebrew scholars, who have spent a lifetime studying the language of the OT, are unwilling to make the kind of dogmatic assertions that are being made by people who have not studied the language, it should be a red flag that something is wrong.

There are a many good questions that should be asked as we approach the biblical account of creation, and good arguments can be made for a number of answers to these questions. Unfortunately the goal of some “creation ministries” has not been to prove that their answers to these questions are the best answers, but rather to prove that they are the only answers. In pursuing this goal, these ministries have often presented extremely flawed arguments in an attempt to force the text of Scripture into their mold. The problem is not that their suggested interpretation of the biblical text is unreasonable; the problem is that far too much energy is being spent trying to prove that all other interpretations are unreasonable instead of honestly looking at the text itself and recognizing where there is room for honest disagreement. Sometimes these ministries have acted like an overzealous cop who so strongly believes his suspect is guilty that he is willing to cross ethical lines and manufacture evidence in order to gain a conviction of a man who may be innocent. When proving that all other explanations of the creation account are invalid becomes the goal, it can lead to an overzealous desire to convict those who interpret these passages differently of mishandling Scripture. Intentionally or not, their over zealousness has far too often been the catalyst for false accusations that have been leveled against brothers and sisters in Christ.

I would like to examine an article written by Answers in Genesis that demonstrates how easily ethical lines can be crossed when the goal becomes “proving” all other explanations are wrong. The primary question being raised in this article is “Are there gaps in the Genesis genealogies?” This is a good question and there are good biblical scholars who validly disagree on the answer to this question. Answers in Genesis takes the position that there are no gaps in the early genealogies of Genesis, and while their answer is an entirely reasonable explanation of the biblical text, it is not the only valid explanation of the text. Problems arise in their argument, not because of how they understand the text, but because they have over zealously tried to “prove” that all other explanations are invalid. The focus of AiG’s argument is based on how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) should be understood. Some Hebrew scholars do support AiG’s understanding of these early genealogies in Genesis, but none will support AiG’s suggestion about how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ must be understood. While AiG’s proposal, if true, would preclude any other understanding of these genealogies, it is not a proposal supported by Hebrew scholarship and it marks the point where AiG has begun to cross an ethical line. In order to defend their position, AiG must move farther still beyond a line that they should have never crossed. Let’s take a look at AiG’s six arguments.

 

Arguments 1 and 3

The genealogical information given in Genesis 46 presents a serious problem for those who suggest that the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can refer only to a direct descendant. In trying to defend this position, AiG tells us that “A person needs to read the quoted verse (Ge. 46:15) carefully to correctly understand its meaning. The begat (bare) refers to the sons born in Padanaram. Genesis 35:23 lists the six sons born in Padanaram (those whom Leah begat), who are listed as part of the total group of 33 children in Genesis 46:15. Thus, this passage confirms that begat points to the generation immediately following—a literal parent/child relationship.” There are several serious problems with this explanation.

First, no distinction is made between the six children that were direct descendants and the remaining twenty-seven given in the list. While the qualification “in Paddam-Aram” may indicate that, through the birth of these six children, ultimately Leah bore thirty three children, it is an inescapable conclusion that this usage of YaLaD (begat) refers to multiple generations. It is this kind of usage that many scholars believe may be intended in other early genealogies given in Genesis.

Second, this same pattern is repeated for Zipah (vs. 18), Rachel (vs. 22), and Bilah (vs. 25). In each of these for examples, a list of children and grandchildren is also provided, and then the total number is said to have been born to the woman whose name follows the list. However, in none of the remaining three examples is any qualifying location provided, further demonstrating the impossibility of the very imaginative interpretation suggested by AiG. AiG tells us that nowhere is it stated that these four wives physically bore the total number of sons listed for each” but the whole point is that scholars see these as examples where the text is speaking of generational gaps, where the text speaks of both children and grandchildren that are born to these women, and the text is very clear on that point. Genesis 46:18 states that “she [Zilpah] bore to Jacob these sixteen persons (NASB)[iv]” but only two were her biological children, the rest were grandchildren or great grandchildren.

Third, this is not the only passage that uses the root YaLad (begat) in a way that indicates multiple generations. Duet. 4:25 tells us that “you will beget sons and sons of sons,” and in Ruth 4:17 were are told that “A son has been born to Naomi.” This son, we know from the narrative, was the direct descendant of Ruth and Boaz. Not only is there a generational gap, there wasn’t even a direct biological relationship between Naomi and Ruth and only a distant relationship between Naomi and Boaz.

 

Argument 2

AiG’s recognizes that there are skipped generations found in Mt. 1:8 and Mt. 1:11, but AiG tells us that Here, the Greek word for begat is gennao, which shows flexibility not found in the Hebrew word and does allow for the possibility that a generation or more may be skipped. Where did the idea that the Hebrew word ‘YaLaD’ is less flexible than the Greek word ‘gennao’ originate? It appears that this idea came solely from AiG. This implied limit to the semantic range of meaning for ‘YaLaD’ is not supported by any Hebrew reference lexicon, and AiG has not referenced the work of any Hebrew scholar that would support such a conclusion.

The Greek NT has been translated into a number of Semitic languages, like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic. These languages share many common roots, and one frequently shared root is ‘YaLaD’ (to beget). When we examine translations of Mt. 1 in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation, we find that ‘YaLaD’ is consistently used to translate the verses with their known genealogical gaps. Some examples are Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut’s 14th century Hebrew translation[v], the Peshitta (an Aramaic 5th century translation)[vi], and the Van Dyke[vii]. If, as AiG contends, the root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can never be used to refer to anyone other than a direct biological descendant, then we would expect that the translators of these Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translations of this biblical text would have recognized the problem and chosen other words to express the non-direct relationships found in this genealogy; they did not. The universal usage of this root in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation alone demonstrates the fallacy of this argument.

 

Argument 4

AiG tells us that “The Hebrew word yalad for begat is not used in the 1 Chronicles passage (1 Chronicles 7:23–27);” however, it is present[viii] in the very first verse of this passage.

Argument 5

In Luke 3:36, and in most copies of the LXX (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text) we have an additional generation that is not present in the Hebrew genealogies found in Ge. 11:12 or 1 Chr. 1:24. AiG contends that this was an error introduced into both the LXX and the text of Luke 3:36. They point to an early manuscript (P75) of Luke which does not contain the additional generation, and suggest that this was the original text and that all other copies reflect a corrupted text. While this, unlike the other arguments, is a possible explanation, it is far from certain.

Most scholars believe the genealogies that include Cainan reflect the original text of Luke and that the basis for Luke’s genealogy is found in the LXX. P75 was found in 1952, and many new English translations of Scripture have been published since its discovery i.e. the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NLT, HCSB, etc…; to date, no translation committee has felt there was sufficient evidence to warrant changing our English translations and every new English translation still includes the name Cainan. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, scholars often presumed that differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text reflected either corruption or mistranslation of an original Hebrew text; however, the DSS have demonstrated that many of these differences were actually a reflection of previously unknown Hebrew variants[ix]. For this reason, scholars today have much more respect for the translation quality of the LXX than did scholars of a generation past. Because this additional generation is found in so many ancient manuscripts[x], many scholars believe that copies of Luke that include Cainan are more likely to represent the original text.

Additionally, witnesses to this genealogy also exist in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, and these witnesses add details that may provide grounds for understanding why Cainan was omitted from the Hebrew text. In the book of Jubilees[xi] we are told that Cainan the son of Arphaxad (and father of Shelah) found a cave with writings about astrology written by the “watchers who lived before the flood.” He copied the writing and then hid this from Noah because he was afraid of Noah’s response. This led to sin that apparently resulted Cainan being sent away. His involvement in astrology and subsequent expulsion may explain why his name was blotted out of the OT record. Additionally, mathematical analysis[xii] of both the Hebrew and Greek genealogies of the OT demonstrate that it is extremely unlikely that this additional generation was due to a simple transcription error because the numbers have been adjusted to provide the same numerical sums in the genealogies that contain this name as are provided in the genealogies that omit it. Whether the name Cainan was part of the original text of Luke is a much more difficult question to answer than AiG has suggested. Regardless of what one concludes regarding Luke’s genealogy, that decision should be made based solely on evaluating the evidences related to this passage. Attempting to use this passage to prove that the meaning of a Hebrew word should be limited is circular reasoning, and something to be avoided.

 

Argument 6

There is no reason to defend Harold Camping’s argument, so I will ignore it and focus on the errors in AiG’s response. AiG tells us that These verbs use the hiphil form of the verb” and that the “Hiphil usually expresses the causative action of qal.” While both statements are true, AiG then leaps to the unwarranted conclusion that “God chose this form to make it absolutely clear that we understand that there are no missing generations in chapters 5 and 11 of Genesis. Any other Hebrew verb form would not have been nearly as emphatic as the hiphil form.” This is stated without providing references to any Hebrew scholarship that would support this conclusion, and there is no Hebrew reference lexicon that would suggest the hiphil form would limit the semantic range of meaning for this root in this way. While it is true that the hiphil form USUALLY expresses causative action, they have failed to recognize that the meaning of a verb is not always derived from its form; common usage must always take precedence in determining meaning. For example, if I say “I speak Hebrew[xiii]”, the piel (intensive) form of the verb is used; however, the meaning of this verb is just simple active even though the piel construction is used. There are many Hebrew verbs that “break the rules” when one considers the meaning that “should” be derived from its form. When we look at the interchangeability of the qal (light, active) and hiphil (causative, active) for the root ‘YaLaD’ (to  begat) as it is used in the biblical text, we should recognize that caution must be exercised before deriving the meaning for this verb based on its form.

More importantly, AiG’s understanding of causative action is itself flawed. In biblical Hebrew, the causative form is frequently used to indicate the person who was the cause of an action even when that person was not the agent who did the action. When Scripture speaks of David bringing (hiphil) the shields of gold to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 18:7), it does not intend to convey the idea that David personally carried them to Jerusalem, but rather that he had his men bring them to Jerusalem. When it speaks of Solomon bringing (hiphil) the dedicated items into the Temple (2 Chr. 5:1), again the intent is not to convey the idea that Solomon literally carried these items himself, but rather that they were brought to the temple by others following his order. Similarly, when Scripture tells us that God brought disaster on Israel, most of the time that action was carried out by the men of other nations i.e. God was the cause of the action, but not the agent of that action. Additionally, it is clear that this verb can be used in the Hiphil form to indicate genealogical gaps. One of the best examples can be found in Duet. 4:25 which uses this exact form to say “for you will beget sons and sons of sons;” a statement that couldn’t more strongly indicate multiple generations.

 

Conclusion

Strong vigorous debate is an invaluable tool for learning only when we come to that debate willing to acknowledge the weakness of our own position and willing to hear the positions of those with whom we disagree. Some of the most valuable debates I have engaged in personally are the ones I have lost; they were valuable because loosing meant that I learned something that I had not known before. When we enter into a debate with the idea that winning is more important that learning, too often the result is that integrity is compromised in order to achieve that goal, and no one profits from that debate. It is time we stop coming to debates over Creation with the goal of winning, and start engaging in debates with the goal of truly learning from one another.

 


 

[i] Strong’s identifies 8674 Hebrew words, other sources vary slightly.

[ii] The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8.   This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT).  The Millionth Word was the controversial ‘Web 2.0′. Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. Though GLM’s analysis was the subject of much controversy at the time, the recent Google/Harvard Study of the Current Number of Words in the English Language is 1,022,000.   The number of words in the English language according to GLM now stands at:  1,025,109.8.  The difference between the two analyses is .0121%, which is widely considered statistically insignificant. Google’s number, which is based on the counting of the words in the 15,000,000 English language books it has scanned into the ‘Google Corpus,’ mirrors GLM’s Analysis.  GLM’s number is based upon its algorithmic methodologies, explication of which is available from its site.

[iii] Among Hebrew scholars there is a debate about whether the first instance should be translated as “it was said” or whether “it should be said” better communicates the intent of Hosea. The use of the perfect is primarily based on the translation of this text found in the LXX.

[iv] וַתֵּ֤לֶד אֶת־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ לְיַעֲקֹ֔ב שֵׁ֥שׁ עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה נָֽפֶשׁ (Gen. 46:18)

[v] Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut  (14th Century)

אסא הוליד את יהושפט יהושפט הוליד את יורם יורם הוליד את עוזיה (Matt. 1:8)

יאשיה הוליד את יכניה ואחיו בגלות בבל (Matt. 1:11)

[vi] Peshitta (5th Century)

‎  אסא אולד ליהושׁפט יהושׁפט אולד ליורם יורם אולד לעוזיא (Matt. 1:8)

‎  יושׁיא אולד ליוכניא ולאחוהי בגלותא דבבל (Matt. 1:11)

[vii] Van Dyke

‎  وَآسَا وَلَدَ يَهُوشَافَاطَ. وَيَهُوشَافَاطُ وَلَدَ يُورَامَ. وَيُورَامُ وَلَدَ عُزِّيَّا.  (Matt. 1:8)

‎  وَيُوشِيَّا وَلَدَ يَكُنْيَا وَإِخْوَتَهُ عِنْدَ سَبْيِ بَابِلَ (Matt. 1:11)

[viii] In 1 Chr. 7:23 (the very first verse from this passage) we read ‘‎וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן’ (and she conceived and begat a son). In Hebrew, letters like ה,ו,י,נ are weak letters, and it frequently dropped when verbs containing them are conjugated. In the text from 1 Chr. 7:23 that I provided, both verbs contain weak letters and both verbs have dropped a letter in their conjugated form in this text. The root for ‘to conceive’ is הרה and the final ה is dropped when conjugated as ותהר, the root for ‘to begat’ is ילד and the י is dropped when the verb is conjugated as ותלד. The prefixed ת simply indicates that this is the 3rd person feminine singular imperfect.

[ix] Because the DSS are very fragmentary, every passage found in the LXX cannot be compared to an original text from the DSS collection; this is one example where we our comparison is still limited only to Hebrew manuscripts that centuries newer than the Greek texts of the LXX to which they are being compared.

[x] The NET bible notes that “the witnesses with this reading (or a variation of it( are substantial: א B L ¦1 33 )Καϊνάμ(, A Θ Ψ 0102 ¦13 Û (Καϊνάν, Kainan)”

[xi] Jubilees. 8:1-5

[xii] Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 18: 207, The Curse of Cainan (Jub. 8.1-5): Genealogies in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, and a Mathematical Pattern., Helen R. Jacobus

[xiii] “אני מדבר עברית”

 

 

LET’S STOP PRETENDING!

What happened to Alton Sterling is NOT the same as what happened to Philando Castile!

Not_The_SameThere has been a rush to present both tragedies as identical by far too many on both sides of the political spectrum. Our president, and much of the media, has presented both incidents as identical examples of unjustified police shootings and a pattern of police abuse against our black citizens, neighbors, and friends (even before  the evidence is in). Their irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled response to these tragedies has only served only to widen an already growing division in our country and has escalated violence against the men and women who put their life on the line to serve and protect our citizens every day. Now some conservative sources have begun responding with the same irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled tactics, vilifying both men who were shot (again before the evidence is in), and placing the blame for both of these deaths on the shoulders of the men who were shot and killed. Doing this serves no one and only hurts our neighbors who, regardless of their political leanings, need our love now more than ever. ENOUGH ALREADY, JUST STOP!!!

Portraying these two incidents, that are so very different, as if they were the same is unjust and leads only to distrust, hurt, and anger that further divides us all. While it is still early in both investigations, and it is possible that new information could come to light in either of these investigations that would paint a very different picture than what is known today, it doesn’t seem likely. Without new evidence, justice requires that we look at each of these incidents very differently. If we, as a nation, continue to huddle into our own political corners, looking for “facts” to fit “our” narrative, while ignoring the facts that don’t, we will only exasperate the problems that continue to further divide our country.

Why are they different?

Philando Castile had no criminal record and apparently was legally carrying a firearm and informed the officer of this fact. His girlfriend, after the shooting, was completely compliant with the officers and there is currently no reason to believe that Mr. Castile was not also fully compliant with the officer’s orders before the shooting took place. While there are some rumors that suggest that he may have been pulled over based on a case of mistaken identity, that alone does not justify the shooting. Having been in a similar situation where I was held at gunpoint by officers who believed I was a criminal fleeing from a crime scene, I am very thankful that most officers do not shoot their suspects with such ease. In this situation, not only was someone shot without cause but after the shooting took place, neither officer handled the situation appropriately. Neither officer made any attempt to administer medical aid to the person whom they had just shot, but instead they arrested, handcuffed, and transported the girlfriend to the police station, treating her as a criminal. She was not permitted to be with her boyfriend who was shot and dying, nor was she permitted to be with her daughter who had just witnessed this tragedy. While I would not conclude, based on the evidence we have today, that this shooting was motivated by race, I do believe that it is an example of extremely gross negligence by both officers, and if what we know now proves to be true, both officers should be fired, and the one who pulled the trigger should be charged with felony manslaughter.

Alton Sterling was a felon with an illegal firearm and was unwilling to comply with the officer’s orders. Because of his unwillingness to comply, he was wrestled to the ground by the officers and was still fighting them when one officer believed that he was attempting to use his gun against them. While, given the evidence we have at the moment, it is unclear whether the officer was mistaken, there is little doubt that this is what he believed at the moment he fired his weapon. In the midst of a struggle, like the one that was taking place, it is entirely understandable that something could have been miss-perceived but such a miss-perception (if it was a miss-perception) would not change the circumstance of this case. People need to put themselves in the shoes of the officers involved and recognize that if the officer was right and had hesitated for even a tiny fraction of a second, one or more of the officers could have been killed. Officers, who put their lives on the line daily to protect and serve their community, deserve to come home to their families at night, and the constraints that many desire to place on them would mean than many more of them would not make it home. While it is horrible tragedy when anyone is killed, the blame for this killing must lie on the shoulders of the one who initiated the situation and, in this case, that person was Mr. Sterling. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, anyone who chooses to become physically violent with a police officer should understand that he is putting his own life at risk when he chooses to do this.

Please, please, let us step out of our political corners and come together to look for real solutions to the real problems that confront our nation! If we are going to survive as a nation, we must be willing to truly listen to those on all sides and set aside our own misconceptions. Ultimately this begins when we are willing to look at everyone through they eyes of the one who created us all and who loves each of us so dearly. Only then will we begin to understand the value of each life that has been lost and weep, as God does, for each and every one of them.

 


 

Note: For those who will automatically assume that I wasn’t shot only because I am white, I can assure you that the officer in my case could not have known the color of my skin until after the perceived threat was over.  He saw only a man in a car with his high beams aimed at him. Additionally, while I was completely unaware, the officer had more reason to believe that I was acting aggressively towards him than it appears that the officer who shot Mr. Castile did.

Challenge: How many can you identify?

One of the most beautiful poetic passages of the Hebrew bible is found in Ecclesiastes 12, and the richness of this passage is too often missed because people have failed to understand the rich poetic imagery that Solomon has employed. Throughout this passage, word pictures are employed to describe the process of aging and all that comes with it. How many of these word pictures can you identify and correctly interpret?

The most challenging word pictures found in this passage are in verse 5; their challenge lies in the fact that we no longer have a clear understanding of the intended imagery of the almond blossom, the locust [tree], or the caperberry. Many translations have opted to interpret some or all of these word pictures for you, often without indicating their departure from the underlying Hebrew text. While the NLT attempts to keep the original imagery, it adds the common interpretations of that imagery into the text i.e. before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire.However, I believe Robert Alter, in his book “The Wisdom books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes,” offers a better solution when he notes that “It is less strained to read these lines simply as images of the cycle of growth and decay in nature as man is about to depart from that cycle.” Alter also offers a possible solution to one of the most challenging word pictures in this text. He notes that “The most puzzling reference is to the laden locust. Some see this as indicating a plant, not an insect (in fact a meaning carried by the English word as well); others detect a reference to the female locust heavy with eggs, after laying which she dies. Perhaps the least strained construction is a locust tree heavy with ripe fruit.

How many of the word pictures employed by Solomon can you identify?


 

caper berry

Remember your Creator while you are still young,

before the days of misery come

and turn into years in which you say “there is no pleasure in them.”

 

Remember him –

 Before the light of the sun, and the moon, and the stars grow dark,

           And the clouds return after the rain.

 When the guardians of the house tremble

and the strong men stoop,

 When the grinders are idle because they are few

and those who peer through the windows fade away.

 When the doors to the street are shut,

           And the sound of the mill grows faint.

 When one rises to the sounds of the bird,

           But the daughters of song have been subdued.

 

Even heights bring fear,

           And the streets terrify them.

  — the almond tree blooms,

the locust tree is heavy laden,

and the caper berry breaks open —

Because a man goes to his eternal home,

           And mourners go around in the streets.

 

Remember him –

 Before the silver cord breaks

and the golden bowl crashes to the ground,

 Before the well’s pitcher is smashed

and it’s crank wheel broken.

 Before dust returns to the earth from where it came,

           And the spirit returns to God who gave it.

 

Futility, futility, said the preacher, all is futility.

(Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)