I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, part 3

Here is an example of Biblical writing:

Psalm 114:1 When Israel went out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of foreign language;
2 Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
3 The sea saw it, and fled.
The Jordan was driven back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the little hills like lambs.
5 What was it, you sea, that you fled?
You Jordan, that you turned back?
6 You mountains, that you skipped like rams;
you little hills, like lambs?

The above is a poetic description of the passage through the Red Sea, in Exodus, and also of the passage across the Jordan River, decades later. Are we to suppose, from this, that the mountains and hills skipped like rams and lambs?  No. This is poetic exaggeration.

Apocalyptic literature is literature about end times, and/or that has an obscure meaning.

Ezekiel 1:26 Above the expanse that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and on the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man on it above. 27 I saw as it were glowing metal, as the appearance of fire within it all around, from the appearance of his waist and upward; and from the appearance of his waist and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 As the appearance of the rainbow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of Yahweh’s glory. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.

Ezekiel doesn’t seem to be able to find words to give a good description. “Likeness,” “appearance of,” and “as it were” occur a dozen times in these three verses of apocalyptic literature. It seems that Ezekiel saw things that he really couldn’t describe well, and he did his best to let us know that he had seen some wonderful things. These included something like a man (God the Son, perhaps? An angel?), and that’s about all we can say for sure.

The excerpt above shows two examples, perhaps extreme, but examples, nonetheless, illustrating that at least some of the poetic literature in the Bible was not meant to be taken literally, and that at least some of the apocalyptic literature in the Bible cannot be taken literally, because God is trying to obscure some aspect of it, because the person who wrote it doesn't grasp it fully, because the reader can't grasp it fully, or some combination of these three.

Thanks for reading! Here's the previous post in this series.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sunspots 437

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

The Arts: Connie Willis, winner of Nebula and Hugo awards, on why she is fascinated by stories about time travel.

Health: NPR reports on how people eat more food that isn't all good for them when their sports team loses, and less when it wins.

NPR also reports on "Mountain Dew Mouth," and, in particular, how some health professionals want to restrict the intake of soft drinks with sugar and acid.

The BBC reports on a 'dramatic' drop in the number of HIV infections, world-wide.

Science: A golden eagle has been photographed in the act of attacking (and bringing down) a deer, with a report by Nature World News.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Well at the World's End, by William Morris

I recently read The Well at the World's End, by William Morris. It's a public domain work, originally published in 1896.

Morris must have been an interesting character. The Wikipedia article on him says that he was influential in textile design, book publishing, preservation of old buildings, and "As an author, illustrator and medievalist, he helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, and was a direct influence on postwar authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien." He was also a "libertarian Marxist," whatever that means, or meant.

The book is still considered important enough that there's a Wikipedia article on it. This article says that "Although the novel is relatively obscure by today's standards, it has had a significant influence on many notable fantasy authors. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien both seem to have found inspiration in The Well at the World's End: ancient tables of stone, a 'King Peter', and a quick, white horse named 'Silverfax' are only a few." The article doesn't say that having wise old men (and women) living in out-of-the-way places, and setting the story in a time before gunpowder and internal combustion engines, in a feudal society, are all conventions often used by modern-day fantasy authors, and are part of this book. I don't suppose that Morris invented any of these conventions, but he used them well. (See here for musings on "sword and sorcery" fiction.)

The "obscure" adjective, in the Wikipedia article, seems to refer to the language in the book. Morris used a few words that I have never seen before, such as sele and thorp, for two of them. They don't distract much from the novel. What's it about? It's about Ralph, the youngest member of a royal family, who decides that he doesn't want to stay home and look after his parents as they age. He goes off on adventures. The greatest adventure is to drink from the Well at the World's End. It's not giving away too much to say that he achieves that adventure. For whatever reason, Ralph is very attractive to women. He attracts two, one who would have become his wife, but is killed, and another, who does marry him. He also attracts the queen of another area, and another lady or two. I guess that's part of the magic of the book. He also is an excellent swordsman. Drinking from the Well gives the few that achieve that quest a longer life, and also seems to infuse them with wisdom and goodness. (Morris died in the year that the book was published.)

The church, probably the Roman Catholic church, is alive and well, and not villainous, in the book. There is almost no magic, other than what I have described.

The book is a good read. It's available cheaply, or freely, from Amazon and the Project Gutenberg web site, as an e-book.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 2

2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

1 Thessalonians 5:26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

Have you ever done that? I haven’t, and you probably haven’t, either. Why not? Because we live in a different culture. We are not the Corinthians, or the Thessalonians, and we don’t live in the first century. Kissing was a common part of greeting for them. Perfunctory kisses on the cheeks are still part of some cultures. In my culture, casual kissing, as a form of greeting, isn’t normal.

There is a significant fact about the Bible that the Bible doesn’t tell us. But it’s still true. That fact is that the Bible was written for a culture, or cultures, different than ours. They understood some things differently than we do. But we are still human, and God’s Word speaks to the twenty-first century. It speaks remarkably well, in fact. But there are things that readers and listeners took for granted when the 66 books of the Bible were first transmitted, that we just don’t take for granted, or, sometimes, even understand. Some of these differences are taken care of by translation, especially if the translation is not strictly word for word, but idea for idea. But some differences, like the “holy kiss,” just aren’t taken care of by translations.

[The book discusses the question of how long Christ was in the tomb in the book, at some length. The Bible says it was three days, but it wasn't, not as we count days -- He died on Friday afternoon, and had risen by early Sunday morning. But, in that culture, any part of a day would have been counted in numbering how many days something took. That's not the way we do it.

It also discusses the miracle of Joshua's long day. (I'm not sure exactly what God did then, but He did something!)  Did the sun stand still? If something like this happened today, we would say that the earth's rotation was stopped. But the people of Joshua's time had no idea that the earth rotated around the sun. Their culture hadn't realized that. The Bible was also written as if the earth was not spherical, in that story, and in other places.]

The Bible is not an astronomy or geology textbook. It describes the heavenly bodies, and the earth, in terms that would have been familiar to listeners and readers of that day. That doesn’t mean that the Bible is in error, unless you have an unreasonable standard for correctness.

In summary, to really understand the Bible, we need to do more than just read it. We should read it, recognizing that the Bible, although it speaks to us today, was written for cultures that were significantly different than ours. The Bible still tells us about Christ, and how the sin problem can be solved, and that applies to all cultures. The fact that the Bible was written for a different culture than ours, and one that didn’t have the same view of what the earth is like as we do, should not cause us to doubt its authenticity or inspiration. Rather, the fact that the Bible still speaks to us in such important ways is evidence for its Divine inspiration.

The above, except for the explanation in brackets, is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, public domain.

The previous post in this series is here.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sunspots 436

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Computing: Time, National Public Radio, and many other news outlets report on Internet neutrality. Can, say, Charter, make, say, Netflix download more slowly, because they want to promote their own competing service? There's a court case.
Education: The Atlantic tells us why we should ignore the U. S. News & World Report annual college rankings.
Health: Fecal transplants are becoming an accepted treatment for some intestinal problems, says the Voice of America. Yes, inserting someone else's poop into your gut.
Politics: It's true -- the wealthiest are getting wealthier, and the rest of us are not, reports NPR. That's the wealthiest, as a group.
Science: Some great stuff this week. Wired has an article, with photos, about zombie ants, ants which are infected by fungi, which enter their brains and then alter the behavior of the ants.
National Public Radio tells us about insects that have gears that mesh -- see the photos and videos, if you don't believe this.

NPR has an article on how gelada baboons are closer to using speech than other primates. There's a "Listen to the Story" link, which you should use, on this page.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 1

What the Bible says.

This book discusses some popular, but wrong, beliefs among Christians who take the Bible seriously, and some areas where there is disagreement among Christians. My goal is to examine what the Bible does say about these matters. It is more important to examine and know what the Bible really says, than to point out things that it doesn’t say, or that many Christians misunderstand. What does the Bible really say? Much of it has been summarized in the historic creeds of the church.

The most important content of the Bible is that Christ’s perfect life, as God in the flesh, and His death and resurrection, have paid the price for human sin:

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I declare to you, brothers, the Good News which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold firmly the word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .*

That truth is tremendous. But we shouldn’t stop there, but try to learn as much of what God has told us as we can. We should study the Bible, and read and listen to what godly people have said about it.

Much of this book is quotations from the Bible. Why? Because what the Bible says is much more important than anything you, or I, can write about what it says.

*(Unless otherwise specified, all scripture quotations in the book are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.)

The above is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set.

If you obtained the book previously, I discovered a dozen or so errors, but have corrected them, I hope. Sorry about that! Amazon has a Manage Your Kindle page for anyone who has a Kindle or Kindle App. I recommend that you go to that page, and turn on Automatic Book Update, which is supposed to send you, free, any updated versions of a Kindle book.

Thanks for reading!