Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Luke and the Census

As it is Christmas season we often think about the story of the birth of Christ. It having more importance then either the birth of Frosty or Rudolph the red nosed reindeer even during the Christmas least for now. Most of us have realized by now that the two birth accounts of Jesus, those of the book of Matthew and the book of Luke are not really reconcilable (see the article Matthew Chapter 2 Immanuel Context and Substance). Most of us also simply ignore this and conflate the two stories together but that really does not work if one thinks critically.

John Ankerberg presents some of his answers to the problem of the census in the book of Luke in his article “Was Luke Wrong About the Census under Quirinius?” He does well in laying out the problems when he writes:
So, Luke tells us Augustus took a census before Jesus was born and this was the reason Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem. However, critics say there are five reasons why Luke’s account is historically incorrect.          
    1. There is no known evidence of an Empire-wide census in the reign of Augustus. If it occurred, wouldn’t it be mentioned by one or another of the ancient historians who recorded this period?    2. Josephus records a lot about Herod but does not mention a Roman census in Palestine . 3. Quirinius was not appointed governor of Syria and Judea until A.D. 6, many years after Jesus was born. 4. In a Roman census, Joseph would not have been required to travel to Bethlehem and he would not have been required to take Mary with him.    5. A Roman census could not have been carried out in Herod’s kingdom while Herod was still alive.
The answers he gives to the above problems could briefly be summed up as:
  1. No evidence but it could have happened.
  2. Quirinius might have ordered a census before that of A.D. 6
  3. There is a reference to “A.D. 104, Vivius Maximus issued an edict that states, "It is essential for all people to return to their homes for the census."
I am going to deal mainly with this last statement about Vivius Maximus. Because I can agree that something in the ancient world was not recorded or the record lost so there could have been a census, after all ancient history is not all that complete. Thus it is also possible that Quirinius also may have ordered a prior rather then first census a couple of years after Jesus' birth. I think that strains the meaning of the word within it's context which is apparently the consensus view of most Bible translators, but I can see the possibility. What I don't see is any logic to the idea of a having a census where someone returns to the home of their ancestors. It would be a logistical nightmare and why would the Romans even care about the ancestral homes of anyone in the Roman territory?

You can read the proclamation of Vivius Maximus and see that it says nothing about returning to ancestral homes. The English translation is: The census by household having begun, it is essential that all those who are away from their nomes be summoned to return to their own hearths so that they may perform the customary business of registration and apply themselves to the cultivation which concerns them. (the footnote is that "nome" was an Egyptian administrative district Vivius Maximus being the Governor of Egypt.) In the case of Joseph that would have been Nazareth (Luke 1:26). There are not too many ways to stretch that Vivius Maximus quote to encompass a return to ancestral homes. Certainly even harder once you read the exceptions for the people living in the countryside who were needed in the city.

When all the evidence is put together however it is difficult to accept the historical truth of various aspects of the book of Matthew and the book of Luke's accounts. The book of Matthew clearly had an agenda the writer was trying to get across, he took Old Testament texts out of context and applied them to Jesus to attempt to have Jesus recapitulate the history of Israel. As you read Micah chapter 5-6 you see two of those examples in one section. Matthew uses them in Matthew 2:6 using Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:15 using Micah 6:4.

I don't want you to think that just because a Bible writer misuses facts or takes things out of context that such things are intentional lies. Usually they are methods of the writer to try and get across something of more spiritual importance. Just as I frequently hear in pastor's sermons. They frequently misuse facts and take things out of context to try and build a case. I don't think they are being purposefully deceptive but they are intent upon creating a particular spiritual point. Many Bible writers introduced that technique and it was once probably more useful in an age when knowledge was rather difficult to come by and facts often depended upon who you listened to. But I think we must be a little wiser than that today. A story may be a story and may contribute to a worthy application to ones life without the story being true, literally or historically. But we do ourselves a disservice if we try and pretend that things that very likely did not happen must have happened and happened in a specific way.

It is scary to think that we have to rethink things, but it really is the nature of life. Manipulation of information is no longer acceptable. There are a lot of things in the Bible that are cultural and no longer anything we would want to associate with. But we are not stuck in their times we can progress and we must; even if it is scary to some.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

If literal Creation ain't true?

The Adventist Review continues upon its course of fundamentalism with the article from Mark A. Kellner the news editor of the Adventist Review. In his article entitled If the Creation Account Isn't True... he presents his best evidence why the Genesis 1 account is true:

If the Bible account of Creation isn’t true, as Giberson and Stephens imply in offering to “incorporate” Darwinism in Christian faith, what must logically follow?

If there’s no Creation . . .
. . . where, and how, did sin enter the world?
. . . why do we need a Savior?
. . . from what did God, if He even exists, rest?
. . . why should we rest if, absent Creation, there’s nothing from which God rested?
. . . how can we believe anything else in the Bible?

Let us first define Darwinism since it seems for many Adventists it is a scary word with meaning that they really must not know.

A theory of biological evolution developed by Charles Darwin and others, stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Darwin's ideas have been refined and modified by subsequent researchers, but his theories still form the foundation of the scientific understanding of the evolution of life. Darwinism is often contrasted with another theory of biological evolution called Lamarckism, based on the now-discredited ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Is natural selection incompatible with Christianity? It has considerable evidence to indicate the genetic action of natural selection, why should it not be able to be incorporated into Christianity. Do we have trouble incorporating Electronics or Physic into Christianity? But apparently biological science is not acceptable to many Adventists and of course to Christian Fundamentalists.

Let us take a closer look at the reasons Mark Kellner gives us:

If there is no Genesis 1-3 literal Creation story “. . . where, and how, did sin enter the world?”

You will notice that I did not say as Kellner deceptively said, “If there’s no Creation” because even if one is a theistic evolutionist or an Intelligent Design believer there is still a creation, the how is simply not known, it does not mean there was not a first cause or creation event. But as you read the fundamentalists you will see that they are very manipulative and love to distort the beliefs of others. That is understandable...when you have a weak theory you need to support it and promote it as best you can and for them the best way is to distort information.

Where did sin enter the world? According to the Genesis 1-3 creation story there is no sin...sin is not mentioned until the Cain and Abel story in Gen 4:7. So we have to read the sin into the story based upon subsequent information. But let us assume that the actions in the story are taken as disobedience which is sin, where did sin enter the world?

The answer is in Eden which is located:
Gen 2:10-15 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (NIV)

Where is or was that you may ask? No one knows. So the first answer the where is unknown, we don't know where. “How” is his next question. The answer assuming the sin was found in the act of eating the forbidden fruit is to be found in the temptation of the couple in Eden by the most crafty of creatures the talking serpent! You may wonder where do talking serpents come from? A good question we don't find many talking animals in the world or even in the pages of the Bible. This serpent then seems to be the instigator of sin because he contradicts God (later in the book of Revelation we read of the serpent of old as a reference to Satan, but Satan was unknown in the Jewish religion until much later, so to understand the story let us look at it from the perspective of those who heard it). So the how for Mark Kellner is sin came because a man and woman of relatively little experience decided to believe a talking snake and follow its arguments (remember Satan is not a part of the story until several thousands of years later). How comfortable are you with that as the story for how sin entered the world? A talking snake that not only spoke the human language but who happened to be in that particular tree at that time with those particular insinuations about God. I suppose if you are comfortable with that you will be just as comfortable with God expelling them from Eden for this one mistake instead of teaching them about what truth is and what lies are and why God may have more reason to be believed then a talking snake.

His next point, why do we need a Savior? Again there is no savior or mention of a savior in the first several chapters of Genesis. There is an announcement of the human superiority to the snake, at least after the snake is cursed for being such a crafty creature. The snake is cursed to crawl on its belly, nothing is said of it losing it ability to talk however which really seemed to be the root of the problem. But with the curse the descendent's will be able to stomp on the heads of the snakes:
Gen 3:14-15 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (NIV) Actually many people take this verse as a Messianic prophecy. However it is never in the Bible, the old or new Testament used in any way as a reference to the Messiah. That is a later view developed later during the time of the Early Church Fathers, which is where a lot of our traditions come from, even though many of them are purely fanciful ideas. Ultimately the Genesis story says nothing about a Savior or our need for a Savior.

His third point, “from what did God, if He even exists, rest?” According to the story He rested from speaking, because that was the method of creation, “And God said”. The Genesis account says nothing about anyone else needed to rest. So his fourth point is once again not something from the Creation account.

Why should we rest if, absent Creation, there’s nothing from which God rested?” According to Jesus the Sabbath rest was made for man not because God rested. Mark 2:27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: (KJV) Even if you use one of the versions of the ten commandments it is rest from human work that is given as the reason. Then there is the common sense argument that one should take some time away from working everyday. Could we not answer the question from experience? Or must we like him make it appear that it comes from a creation account that says nothing about people resting? When people ask questions which have nothing to do with the real subject you can be pretty sure that are desperately searching for something to support their preconceived idea.

Kellner's final point in his list is “how can we believe anything else in the Bible?” Now if he really has no ability to tell an analogy from a metaphor or a parable or a symbol, then in fact he must have serious problems interpreting the Bible and everything else that is written or spoken. Should we ask him how can we believe anything of Jesus Christ because he told the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Luke 16:20-31
At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" (NIV)
If you are going to take something in the Bible literally that sounds way more literal then the talking snake story. But of course the point of the story is that people don't just change because they see a miracle. And that is really the point of the Genesis creation story, the miracle of creation does not make us believe, whether as literal 24 our days or some other method. God was there and He was the cause, God is the power of the creation, it is not about how it was done. When we see the evidence from nature we simply can't ignore it to cling to the simplistic explanations used to help a privative man understand that there was more to this life then what they could see. Which is such an important lesson because the more we learn the more we find that there are vasts areas of information that we could never see before. We keep exploring and learning more, it makes no sense to me that God did not expect us to continue to grow in understanding of our world and universe. He would not expect us to cling to a simplistic story made for people who did not even know that they lived on a planet, let alone one that was not the end of the universe itself.

So please don't let the Fundamentalism take over the Adventist church even though that is our current leaderships desire.