Tuesday, November 27

The Return: Emotions and Literature

From the time that I was a small boy, my mother used to read stories to me. I have always enjoyed reading and writing, but tales of far off lands, fantastic journeys, seemingly impossible adventures and accounts of heroes, dragons and men have always captivated me and held my attention. For the longest time, I have viewed literature as something I simply read as something to pass the time while every now and again I would come across a "good book." For the last three years, the articles on this website have been about the defense of Christianity, explaining and understanding different aspects of religion, science and the world around us. I make no claim to be an official theologian, scholar, historian, scientist, or archaeologist. But I do make the claim that as a human being created under God, I hold a right to express my views and defend them as I see fit, particularly if I hold these views to be truth. This article is about the exploration and journey of a man who is still learning his lessons slowly but surely and wishes to convey them to the thousands of readers who make this place their usual haunt.

The usual articles on here (particularly the last year or so) have attempted to become more scholarly in nature, and I have endeavored to maintain the quality - though clearly not quantity - of the published material so as to inform and aid Christians and non-Christians alike. Articles have covered topics from different arguments for God's existence (the cosmological, the ontological, teleological and others), arguments for the resurrection of Jesus and attempts to pick apart skeptical arguments against the resurrection (disciples stealing the body, the notion that Jesus simply fainted on the cross and other - in my view - fallacious theories), reconciling alleged Biblical contradictions, answering common questions posed to Christians (who created God, the problem of evil), discussion about the end of time and a wide variety of other articles. I have received more emails and comments than I can count or even recall - some of which I am still in the process of responding to.

Over the past year, a lot has happened in my personal life. I will not delve into the details of these experiences, but for those who have asked why there has been a decrease in the amount of published material this year, I can simply say that I have been going through la noche oscura del alma, which is Spanish for the "Dark Night of the Soul." This phrase was used by the 16th century Spanish poet John of the Cross. For its relation with Christianity, this phrase describes a period of spiritual crisis or testing in your journey intended to bring you to further union with the Creator. For those who are not Christians, it simply means that I have been going through a period of struggle in every area of my life - physical, emotional, mental, social, financial, spiritual and so forth. A couple of months ago, I started to think over the events of this year and determine the overall theme of my year, and proceeded to also classify the past few years. It was eventually concluded that this year was about literature, emotion and Christ.

Before proceeding further, allow me to explain a few things (a sort of disclaimer inserted mid-article, if you will). This article is not the norm, and is not what this website is usually used for. But after several months of silence, I felt it necessary to explain a few things and also reflect upon the year. I may also further clarify that this article is not intended to truly be about myself, but about you. This article is intended to look at different aspects of literature and emotions and how they are applicable to life, with hope that lessons I have learned can be utilized by you, the reader. Bearing this in mind, we can then continue. There is an ultimate conclusion from all of this, so understand that the massive amount of background information is for a good purpose.

When I was younger, my mother bought me the entire Chronicles of Narnia series written by the author, poet, and lay theologian Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), better known as C.S. Lewis, and known to his friends as "Jack." As I grew, I was also given a set from my father - it contained J.R.R. Tolkien's (1892-1973) The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The years wore on and I read other works by each author - The Silmarillion (Tolkien), Mere Christianity (Lewis), Unfinished Tales (Tolkien), Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Till We Have Faces, the Space Trilogy (all from Lewis) and several others. My current goal is to read all of the published material from both Tolkien and Lewis, who have been, are currently and will likely continue to be my two favorite authors. Lewis is perhaps my favorite author of the two, and much of my philosophical and theological inspiration comes from him, while Tolkien is a close second simply because The Hobbit is my favorite work of literature and is something that I read at least once or twice a year. I am also among the Tolkien fans who has been heavily anticipating The Hobbit film (now a trilogy) for over a decade now and my joy at finally having the opportunity to see it next month is more than I can express.

The Lord of the Rings films as well as the collective writings of Tolkien and Lewis have affected my life in a massive way. Certainly, the Scriptures have had the most impact on my life over everything and my first priority and first love is for Scripture. But as humans, we tend to become attached to different things, develop habits and hobbies (or hobbits, if your feet are hairy), likes and dislikes. People are not concrete, and are in a constant state of flux. Emotions can change, people can and do change, and life circumstances can change. God remains the same - but while we are earth-bound (in what Lewis describes as the Shadowlands), we are bound to develop an interest in various things. Over the past year, I have read a large body of literature, both ancient and modern.

For example, I have just finished reading The Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic poem likely written around the end of the 8th century BC by Homer (assuming Homeric authorship, though it can be and is debated in scholarly circles), and am in the process of reading Euripides' Bacchae and Homer's Iliad. Other poems and plays have included Hesiod's Theogony, Aeschylus' Agamemnon and Eumenides, the Homeric Hymns, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Aesop's Fables (some of which were likely composed in the sixth century BC), the Art of War (attributed to Sun Tzu), the Analects of Confucius, many early Christian writings and non-canonical gospels (such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Shepperd of Hermas) and Jewish non-canonical texts (such as the Enochian writings or the book of Tobit), and a myriad of other works. On a whole, I read several books a week about history, philosophy, archaeology, linguistics, Biblical studies, ancient and modern literature and such.

What of emotion? Emotion can sometimes be very complicated. Philosophers and scientists have tried to describe it, control it and exploit it for centuries. Psychologists (the youngest of the scientific fields, having been around for a little over a century and a half) have spent a large amount of time researching every aspect of emotion and more and more understanding and information is gained, processed and learned everyday. One of the most complicated emotions of all is love. Perhaps the best definition of love can be found in the writings of the apostle Paul, in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. It reads, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (TNIV).

For my part, if the love you have between a friend and another friend, a husband and a wife, a boyfriend and a girlfriend does not meet these guidelines, it may not necessarily be considered love. There are many forms of love, of course - platonic love, impersonal love, unrequited love and other forms. I agree with King Solomon's description of his wife when he described her as his "perfect one, who is unique." Sometimes the best love starts off as a friendship, and develops from there. We see this happening often in our culture, in ancient stories and fantasies. Granted, sometimes these romances are quite fanciful and do not specifically fit with how life actually works. It is also important to keep in mind that if you feel you are "in love" with someone, be sure you are in love with the person and not the idea of that person. Many moons ago, I believed I had fallen in love with someone. It took me several years to realize that I was not actually in love with that person for various reasons - I was in love with the idea of them. Lewis comes in handy here. 

C.S. Lewis had married a woman named Helen Joy Davidman in 1956. Their love story is one of marvel and tragedy, and one that I have learned and read about in great detail (the 1993 film Shadowlands does a splendid job of portraying their love story). Sadly, after only four years of marriage Joy died of bonce cancer in 1960. Jack (Lewis) was devastated, and proceeded to write in a journal that later became published under the title of A Grief Observed in 1961. At one point in this journal, Jack notes that he is trying to keep himself from loving the idea of her (so to speak) - from only loving what he wanted to remember about her. When she was alive, she would be there to shatter the image he had created of her, whether he had mentally picked and chosen the good and positive things about her and only remembered that part of her - this is what he feared. He wanted to have her around to remind him of who she really was, and he hoped that he would never lose sight of that. The best way I can relate this to you is this: imagine that you have not seen your aunt or uncle in four years, and you only remember certain things about them. When you see them again, they may move their head a certain way, speak a certain way, perform certain actions and a variety of other things that shatters that image you had of them and replaces it with a fresh, realistic image. In the same way, if you feel that you are "in love" with someone, be sure that you are in love with that person and accept them fully instead of only falling in love with the idea of that person or the idea of you being with that person. There are a million things that can be said about love, but for my part I will simply say that love is the grandest and most enthralling of all mysteries.

There are many books that can contribute to change in your life. Indeed, Scripture is life-changing and extremely profound. Any reader of my past articles is well aware that I defend the veracity of Scripture and hold it in the highest regard. Yet I am also a lover of Greco-Roman mythology, Egyptian, Norse and others. Greek and Roman mythology, history and philosophy have always held my interest and enabled me to learn more about the world around me by utilizing concepts and ideas and filtering them through the lens of Scripture. 

So what is the whole point? Almost there, bear with me. I have completed my life up to the present time - my story continues today. And yourself? You are exactly where you need to be at in the story of your life. Whether you are to learn from an experience or grow from a conflict, take small comfort that you are where you need to be at this moment in time. Simply bear in mind that the story is not yet over. I find that literature can provide an escape from this reality (which itself is not bad - we are humans taking on the role of our Creator by engaging in sub-creation), and emotions can be influenced by literature, can influence literature, and certainly our emotions have an influence on everyone around us. There are a thousand other points I wish to make and things I wish to say, but I shall save those for another day. To me, life is a grand mystery, and the inclusion of God in my life and my belief that He guides my life gives me comfort but also fills me with meaning and purpose. As sin-corrupted human beings, we make mistakes, and we sometimes fail. But I find that events in life can only be considered a "failure" if you choose to disregard the lessons you ought to have taken away from those experiences and if you choose to not allow that "failure" to somehow become a success.

Over the course of this past year, I have learned a lot. Literature, experience (especially learning about emotions), time spent with family and friends and a plethora of other things has contributed to my understanding of the world around me and my understanding of God, Scripture, and it has helped me to come to some sort of understanding with the ancient Greek aphorism "know thyself." C.S. Lewis once noted on experience, "Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn." What does it all add up to? There are a dozen different conclusions I could make, and there are a lot of other things we could discuss. This is not the best article I have ever written nor is it intended to be the last, but it serves as more of a self-reflection on what has passed and what is to come. But please, do not let the darkness of your past cloud the promise of the present or the possibility of the future. Life is a challenge: accept it and face it head on. Discover what purpose you were created for, and live that purpose out to the best of your abilities. If I have learned anything this year, it is simply this: I have become once again like a child. 

Lewis once remarked that "I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." I am old enough to read fairly tales again - from Tolkien and Lewis, from Greek to Roman myths, from Germanic folklore collected by the Brothers Grimm and many others. I am old enough to accept Scripture as the ultimate story - the myth come true, the greatest story ever told that spans the corners of space and time and fills my life and the universe with meaning. Emotions and literature - but more importantly my Creator - have taught me to be like a small child again. Sometimes all it takes for us to move forward in life is to view life through the eyes of a small child: we spend our childhood trying to grow up, and much like we long evermore for a return to that Edenic paradise we lost so long ago, we spend our adult lives longing to be young again.

Tuesday, August 14

When Water Became Wine

The recorded miracles performed by Jesus are among the most fascinating and fantastical in Scripture. According to the gospel of John, written c.AD 95 in Ephesus (modern-day Turkey), the first public miracle that Jesus performed occurred at a wedding in Cana in Galilee (John 2:11). While the intention of this article is not to examine whether or not miracles are philosophically or scientifically possible, our intent is to "unpack" the text and learn what we can about Jesus' first public miracle, infamous as the incident where Jesus turned the water into wine. Textual evidence, sociological and archaeological evidence can also provide insight into some of the customs and rituals mentioned within the text, enabling us to view the account through several different lenses. It is therefore pertinent to view the text as a whole before picking apart the text piece by piece. What does the text itself say?

"On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them,’ Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’ What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples put their faith in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his brothers and sisters and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days" (John 2:1-12).

"On the third day a wedding took place..." Historically, Jews in the first century thought that because on the third day of creation God declared everything “good” twice, that the third day of the week - Tuesday - was the best day to marry (cf. Genesis 1:10, 12), hence why this Jewish couple is celebrating their marriage on the third day of the week. As this occurred at the start of Jesus' ministry, it would have been around AD 29-30. A wedding is of course a social event, and as there is no ceremony mentioned in the text, this is likely what we would now call a wedding reception. "...at Cana in Galilee." Cana is located near Capernaum. It is mentioned as the birth-place of Nathanael. Cana is also approximately 5-9 miles from Nazareth, and hence was not far from where Jesus grew up. It is entirely possible that the married couple were family friends. Galilee was the province in which the first and last recorded miracle took place. After Jesus’ resurrection, the last recorded miracle took place on the shore of Galilee’s sea (John 21). As a side note, although some Mormons claim that this wedding was Jesus' wedding, those who hold this position fail to account that the bridegroom is not identified as Jesus, and "Jesus and his disciples had been invited to the wedding." It is likely not your wedding if you are invited to your own wedding. Along with this, such an important event in Christ's life would have been more prominent. 

According to Andrew Greeley, Catholic priest and sociologist, "In an era where there were no films, no television, no radio, no computer games, weddings were one of the few available sources for entertainment for the peasant farmers of Palestine. They lasted for a week and were at least as lively as Jewish weddings today – singing, dancing, eating, drinking, talking, telling tales, gossiping, remembering. The bride and groom would go off to another room or behind a protective curtain to consummate their marriage and the dancing and the music and the celebrating would continue.”[1] One wonders how much sleeping was involved in these celebrations. It is likely that few were drunk at these events. When a wedding took place, the entire village was invited, and as noted the wedding celebration usually took about a week.

This practice can even be seen in the time of Jacob (Genesis 29:27). Also, since the entire village was generally invited and partook, each did not consume enormous amounts of wine so there was not much indulgence.[2] Each likely had a moderate amount of the wine. Scripture instructs believers not to be drunk on wine, but on the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). It is also likely that at least some of the water jars were there for the ritual washing of hands and utensils.[3] In sociological terms, wine was drunk more often than not as a result of water contamination. A reference to this is found even within the New Testament, in a letter from St. Paul to Timothy, "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness" (1st Timothy 5:23). In these days, water was not very clean. The water was generally filled with contaminants, and individuals drank wine as a result of the unclean water. Sometimes the water was mixed with a bit of wine, or sometimes it was simply a moderate portion of wine. 

From Giotto di Bondone (1400s; Public Domain)
Verses 4-5 are curious. Although it appears that we are missing a crucial piece of the conversation between Jesus and His mother, it is entirely possible that she understood that He would help, and simply continued to inform the servants. It is also possible that she informed the servants without His consent, essentially guilting Him into helping, although He likely intended to regardless. “Jesus’ literal words sound brusque: ‘What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?’ But another translation would be ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ It was not yet His time to provide for all the needs of all the world’s people through His sacrificial death, but His turning water into wine was a sign that messianic times had arrived (Jl 3:13; Am 9:13-14)."[4] Mary watched Jesus grow and helped raise Him during the first thirty years of His life, and she likely understood that a time was soon coming for Him to reveal Himself to the world as the Messiah, and this may not be the first time Mary asked Jesus to perform a miracle or implied that He ought to help in some way and thereby perform His first public miracle. His statement "My hour has not yet come" can mean a variety of things.

The statement may mean that the hour of His sacrifice had not yet come, or the hour to perform the miracle had not yet come, or the time for Him to go public with His ministry. Whatever the case, Jesus did indeed perform His first public miracle by turning the water in the six stone jars into wine. The six stone jars could hold about 20-30 gallons each, which is about 75-115 liters and about 180 gallons in all. They were used for ceremonial washing due to their large size. When the servants refilled the jars with water, they likely utilized local wells. This would have taken some time depending on the number of wells, number of buckets, and number of servants. For those who claim that Jesus faked the miracle, these factors would have made it difficult to do so. But what of the usage of the wine? "One hundred eight gallons of the best wine! How could the guests possibly consume it! What did the hosts do with it afterward! Were there other parties in the weeks ahead before it turned sour? We do not know, though it is fun to speculate."[5] The large amount of wine leads the reader to wonder precisely why Jesus had the servants fill all six of the jars, and not simply two or three. "The huge amount of wine was excessive. Why not just one water jar? Jesus liked being excessive, just as his Father-In-Heaven was excessive. Why so many stars? Why not just one galaxy?"[6]

The importance of water symbolism in a purely literary or textual sense cannot be stressed enough. Out of the water came the wine, which the master of the banquet considered to be "the best wine".  Water plays a significant role in Scripture and history. According to Genesis 1:2, God the Spirit "hovered over the waters," and "long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged [the global flood] and destroyed" (2nd Peter 3:5-6). The early Hebraic nomads knew well that water was precious in the deserts of the Near East, and as water was a precious commodity, it was a valuable treasure. Moses' experience in the wilderness during his forty years away from Egypt provided Him with an advantage when the exodus occurred and the Israelites journeyed in the wilderness for forty years (the second set of forty years in the wilderness for Moses), so that Moses knew well the geography of the land. Jesus also walked on the water, calmed the water and after His crucifixion, blood and water flowed from His side (John 19:34; likely due to the rupturing of the heart or puncturing of the pericardial sac), which may possibly also be referenced in 1st John 5:6. Water is also used in baptism, as noted in the New Testament documents and early church writings such as The Didache.

Perhaps the most striking contrast to this miracle at Cana is found in the life of Moses. While Moses turned the Nile River in Egypt from water into blood, Jesus turned the water into wine, a sort of antithesis. Jesus Himself once said, "those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). The water symbolism found within the first miracle of Jesus is no mere accident, though it may be referred to as an undesigned coincidence by J.J. Blunt. The spiritual significance goes hand in hand with the literary significance; while Moses turned the water into blood (life into death), Jesus turned the life-giving water into wine, which was likely wine in decay yet its purpose was still in some sense the continuation - not extermination - of life. Now, John 2:12 says, "After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days." Jesus’ brothers are mentioned at the end of the account as having gone to Capernaum with Him. Had they also been at this wedding festival to witness His first miracle? If so, would James and Jude use this miracle in discussions with people years later when they had become Christians? We know from other passages in the New Testament that His brothers were originally skeptical, but is it feasible to assume that they too were present at this wedding festival? We will likely never know on this side of eternity, but it is certainly possible, though the miracle evidently did not convince Jesus' brothers.

There is one issue that has been brought to the attention of some which ought to be addressed. According to Morton Smith, an American professor of ancient history well-known for his "discovery" of Secret Mark, "The Johannine story of Jesus' turning water into wine (2.1-11) was modeled on a myth about Dionysus told in a Dionysiac festival shows striking similarities, even in wording, to the gos+pel material and makes its polemic purpose apparent. I do not know any close magical parallel before the practice of the Christian magician Marcus (Hippolytus, Refutation VI.39f)."[7] Now, it is worth noting that historical evidence appears to point to this Dionysus myth coming about in the 2nd century - whereas John's gospel was written and put into circulation in the late 1st century. It is therefore very likely that any borrowing came from the opposition, not the other way around. Now, whether Dionysus was changing things into wine prior to Christ could also be considered a non-issue. Wine was very important in ancient civilizations because of its primary usage, and to have multiple civilizations with a god of wine is to be expected. One major difference, however, is that Jesus was a historical figure whereas Dionysus is a mythological figure. It is also entirely possible that Jesus performed this as His first miracle to counter the false deity; much like the plagues in Egypt during the time of Moses can be seen as countering the false Egyptian deities. 

On its simplest level, the account of turning water into wine found in the text of John 2 is the story of the God-man's public introduction with the first miracle. Jesus had (up to this point) gone through His baptism under John the Baptist and had also endured the forty days of temptation in the wilderness. He may or may not have healed prior to this incident, but it is considered the first of the public miracles found within the canonical gospels. The account of when water became wine is one that has been read and re-read by Christians and skeptics alike down through the ages, and it promises to be one that will continue to fascinate and illicit discussion. 

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

[1] Greeley, Andrew. Jesus: A Meditation on His Stories and His Relationships with Women. 1st ed. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2007. 64. Print.
[2] Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, et al.. Apologetics Study Bible for Students. 1st ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009. 1121. Print.
[3] Alexander, Pat and David. Zondervan Handbook To The Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. 3rd ed. 624. Print.
[4] Ibid, [2].
[5] Ibid, [1].
[6] Ibid. 65. 
[7] Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981. Print.

Tuesday, July 3

Wrestling with God

There are many gems in the Bible, some more well-known than others. One such gem is the wrestling match between God and man. The occurrence in question can be found in Genesis 32. Written by Moses c.1445-1405 BC, the book of Genesis details the six-day creation of the universe,  the subsequent fall of man and corruption of the universe, the first murder, the first people and their technological achievements, the worldwide flood in the time of Noah, the dispersion of nations from the plain in Shinar at Babel, as well as the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. There are various other incidents and details found within the record, but a general background elucidates the time and place of the event and allows for further understanding. By the time we come to Genesis 32, much has already transpired in the world. Here we find Jacob the son of Isaac (who was the son of Abraham), on his way to meet his brother Esau, whom he had not seen face to face in over two decades. During the journey, Jacob has psychologically had to prepare himself, but is currently in between two situations, having left one with his uncle Laban and proceeded to enter into one with his brother Esau.

Up to this point, Jacob had believed in God but had not actually become personal with Him. Four chapters prior to the "wrestling match" in Genesis 32, Jacob stops at a certain place to rest for the evening. During the night he "had a dream in which he saw a stairway [or ladder] resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it [or There beside him] stood the LORD" (28:12-13). God proceeded to make a promise to Jacob, who then woke up and called the place "Bethel," which means "house of God." Jacob continued to serve God during the twenty years he worked for his uncle Laban, but in all that time never became close to God. In other words, Jacob did not allow his vulnerability to come into play, and he did not have a personal relationship with God. This is also clearly seen at the beginning of chapter 32. "Then Jacob prayed, 'O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD..." (32:9). It is worth nothing that Jacob does not call Him "my God" or something similar, but calls Him "God of my father." He does not identify God on a relational level but on more of a covenantal level, much like the way many of the Israelites in Moses' day did.

Verses 22-32 are the verses in question. According to Genesis 32:22-32, on the eve of meeting his brother after two decades, "That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' The man asked him, 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he answered. Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.' Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.' The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon."

From Rembrandt (1659; Public Domain)
If a casual reader was reading the passage, that individual is liable to miss a lot of information. Within the above passage, there are several interesting statements made and actions taken by each of the figures involved. To better appreciate the passage, the message and what we can learn, it is therefore necessary to unpack the information, determine what questions we can ask and how we may answer said questions. First of all, verse 22 mentions the geographic location - "the ford of the Jabbok." The Hebrew comes from the word baqoq, which means "to flow" or "pour out." It is generally identified as the Zarqa River (from the Arabic word meaning "blue river"), located in Jordan. In recent years a concern has risen due to the contamination of the tributary, causing problems with the flora, fauna as well as those who live in the area. Our passage does not reveal any other historical details, aside from the fact that his family "crossed the ford of the Jabbok," and that after they had crossed "the stream," he sent his belongings too. In fact, "In Hebrew, the word Jabbok is Yabok, and the word wrestled is Yaaveik. The Hebrew word for wrestling is found only here and the next verse, and nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. It comes from the root avak that means dust. So the basic meaning of this word is to get dusty while wrestling. The name Jabbok was evidently given to the river at a later date to remember Jacob’s amazing experience that night." 

With this in mind, it is relevant to ask several questions. Evidently, the text says that Jacob literally wrestled with God. But if it was God, how could Jacob see Him, if He later told Moses that "no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20)? If he was God, why could he not overpower Jacob? Why did God ask Jacob's name if He already knew? Where does the idea that Jews do not eat the tendon come from? Why did the struggle last until daybreak, if God could simple defeat Jacob with a word? Why did God wrestle with Jacob in the first place? These and other questions arise among readers, and are in fact common questions, or a variation of frequently asked questions. It follows that questions deserve answers, enabling us to then seek the answers. To begin with, it is pertinent to describe the nature of this appearance. It is what theologians call a theophany, or a visible manifestation of God to mankind. The word itself comes from the Medieval Latin theophania which is derived from the Late Greek theophaneia. With this background, we may begin to answer some of the questions posed.

First, "if it was God, how could Jacob see Him, if He later told Moses that 'no one may see me and live' (Exodus 33:20)?" This question could provide a plethora of answers, but it is necessary for our purposes to examine just one. We see elsewhere in Scripture that this same idea of not actually seeing God is present. According to John 1:18, "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." A few chapters later, in John 5:37, Jesus says, "And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form." However, this raises what skeptics claim is a contradiction. Rather, it is a theological misunderstanding on their part. The Jewish Rabbis actually taught that the angel was the guardian angel of Esau. However, the Hebrew Bible is replete with references to physical appearances of God, but if God has not been seen "at any time," how do we explain these appearances? Some have simply noted that it was God, but in a lessened form, or rather that God appeared physically but withheld some of His glory and did not show His true form. In a sense this rings true, but the answer is not complete.

In fact, the fourth gospel itself actually answers this question. More often than not, when referring to God, John meant the Father. This is not true in every instance as Jesus is also called God throughout the Johannine works (cf. John 20:21, for example), but according to John 6:46, "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father." In other words, God has been seen by mankind, but not God the Father. It therefore limits us to the other two persons of the Trinity, God the Spirit and God the Son. The Holy Spirit does indeed appear a great many times throughout the Hebrew Bible, but the physical appearances do not appear to be from the Spirit leaving us with these physical appearances - or theophanies - to be described as physical manifestations of Jesus before His earthly incarnation. Typically, theologians refer to such appearances as a Christophany. Jesus often appeared in the Hebrew Bible as the physical manifestation of God, usually appearing as the "Angel of the Lord." Let the reader understand, we are not claiming that Jesus was an angel. The Bible and the earliest textual evidences and archaeological evidences from church history show that Jesus has been considered God from the outset. Jesus is indeed God and not an angel - but if so, how could He be the "Angel of the Lord?"

For those who are unaware, the Hebrew word for angel is mal'ak, which means "messenger." Part of Jesus' original mission on earth was also as a messenger for the Father, aside from His primary goal to provide us with the means for salvation, that is. Nevertheless, this "Angel of the Lord" could rightly be called the "Messenger of the Lord." In fact, this messenger is actually identified as God more than once in Scripture. Consider Exodus 3, where "the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up" (v.2). Verse 4 says, "When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush..." verse 5 notes that it is God speaking, and verse 6 continues, "'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God." When Moses asked God what name He would tell the Israelites, "God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you'" (v.14). From this passage, it is clear that the Angel of the Lord, also rendered the messenger of the Lord, is God Himself. This angel – or messenger – appears many times in the Hebrew Bible, and is also called God several times. Having appeared in physical form, being called God, and claiming to be God, “I AM,” shows that the angel of the Lord can be no other than God the Son. Interestingly, Jesus claims to be “I AM” in John 5:58, hence why the Israelites attempt to stone Him. It is also worth noting that in some early manuscripts of Jude 5 we read, “Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that Jesus at one time delivered His people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.” Later manuscripts render “Jesus” as “Lord,” although we can note that Romans 10:9 also says, “Jesus is Lord.”

The appearance of the angel of the Lord to Samson's father and mother in Judges 13 is also worth considering in light of Genesis 32. The being is clearly identified as the angel of the Lord (v.3, 13-17, 20-21), and much as He did during His incarnation over one thousand years later, Jesus ascends to heaven (v.20). When this occurs, Manoah and his wife fall down on their faces and once Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord he noted, "We are doomed to die... We have seen God!" (Judges 13:22; cf. Exodus 33:20). Clearly, Manoah and his wife understood the being to be God, and God could be seen. This occurs on several other occasions as well. In sum, this angel (or messenger) of the Lord is Jesus, who is Himself God the Son, pre-incarnate. When God physically manifests Himself to humans during the Hebrew Bible, these appearances are those of Christ. There are rare exceptions where a human sees God the Father (Isaiah 6; Daniel 7) but these occur when the individual is in the spirit and not in the physical body. Having this understand, we can then understand how it is that God could physically appear to Jacob in Genesis 32. According to Hosea 12:3-4, "In the womb he grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor." God's identity is slowly revealed to Jacob during the confrontation at Jabbok, and is fairly evident from the text.

We then arrive at our next question, "If he was God, why could he not overpower Jacob?" The question is rather significant, really. It begs the questions, "if God is all-powerful, is He bound by us? Can we render Him powerless? Is man stronger?" Succinctly put, God is indeed all-powerful. When He was wrestling during the night with Jacob, He could have disabled Jacob at any given moment. At any moment, God could have touched Jacob's hip and moved it from its proper place. The Hebrew word used here actually means "dislocated." But if God could have won the battle at any given moment, why did He choose not to? There are a variety of reasons, but one of the more evident is as follows: the fight continued "until Jacob was exhausted. I suspect the angel would gain a little advantage and then allow Jacob to feel that he was gaining. This went on and on all night long. How exhausted they must have been. But it was necessary. Jacob needed to reach the point where he had no more strength. I believe it was at this point that the man touched Jacob's hip. The message was clear... you have striven with all your might. Yet, I can with one touch defeat you. Jacob needed to see the superiority of his opponent with clarity. Jacob knew the right words and could perform the right actions... but his heart still was not completely the Lord's. It's easy to have superficial faith. However, a crisis forces us to grapple with our real feelings and our true faith. God provokes this crisis to bring Jacob to a point of genuine faith."[2]

In other words, God could have easily overpowered Jacob - but He allowed Jacob to hold on to Him. By struggling and resisting God we cannot create order, it only results in chaos. When we stop fighting Him - as Jacob did - and cling to Him, we are given rest in His arms. For the Christian, we may fight God and resist Him as much as possible. It is rather like a small child putting up a tantrum with his parents, but when he has exhausted his energy and strength, he simply clings to his parents. Jacob finally stopped resisting and simply clung to God. Quite simply, God could have overpowered Jacob at any time during their fight. But God allowed Jacob to fight with Him and exhaust his energies before finally realizing that all he really needed to do was cling to God. We may continually jump the fence over God's plans, but as Proverbs 19:21 reveals, "Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." This is echoed in Proverbs 21:30 as well, "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD." Finally, we see this earlier in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." For Jacob, up until this physical fight with God he had not truly trusted God with all his heart.

As a result of the understanding that Jacob was actually wrestling God the Son, we then ask "Why did God ask Jacob's name if He already knew?" If Jacob was actually wrestling with God as the text appears to indicate, and God is all-knowing, why did He not know Jacob's name? According to Ravi Zacharias, Christian author and apologist, "Think of all that God could have said by way of reprimand. Instead He merely asks for Jacob's name. God's purpose in raising this question contains a lesson for all of us, too profound to ignore. In fact, it dramatically altered Old Testament history. In asking for the blessing from God, Jacob was compelled by God's question to relive the last time he had asked for a blessing, the one he had stolen from his brother. The last time Jacob was asked for his name, the question had come from his earthly father. Jacob had lied on that occasion and said, 'I am Esau,' and stole the blessing. Now he found himself, after many wasted years of running through life looking over his shoulder, before an all-knowing, all-seeing heavenly Father, once more seeking a blessing, Jacob fully understood the reason and the indictment behind God's question and he answered, 'My name is Jacob.' 'You have spoken the truth,' God said, 'and you know very well what your name signifies. You have been a duplicitous man, deceiving everyone everywhere you went. But now that you acknowledge the real you, I can change you, and I will make a great nation out of you.' Greatness in the eyes of God is always preceded by humility before Him. There is no way for you or me or anyone else to attain greatness until we have come to Him." [3]

Clearly, God was well aware of Jacob's name, but He wanted Jacob to not only recognize his name but come to terms with who he really was. Before he could confront his brother and continue his journey in life, he had to first come to terms with God - and himself. By forcing Jacob to think about his name, God provided Jacob with a way. Historically we also know that people of antiquity put a high value on their names. We see throughout Scripture that an individual's name carries meaning. Today, it is easy to simply look up a name online and choose from a long list. For ancient Hebrews as well as others in ancient times, your name was highly significant. Modern Judaism still places a somewhat high value on the name of a child, for as the ancient Jewish saying goes, "With each new child, the world begins anew." Adam was appointed the task of giving the creatures in Eden personal names, a sort of creative power which Jews feel has been handed down to parents for their children. The Bible is also full of examples of individuals who were given specific names - names which later were fulfilled, essentially. For example, Jesus actually means "Savior" or "Saved." Therefore, when Jacob was reminded of his name and its meaning, he began to confront who he really was and let God in.
From Alexander Leloir (1865; Public Domain)
While a bit unrelated from the majority of the article, some have asked the question "Where does the idea that Jews do not eat the tendon come from?" According to Genesis 32:31-32, "The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon." This is a curious statement due to the fact that there is nothing in the Mosaic law detailing this practice, nor is it echoed in later Scripture. First of all, it is relevant to understand the reason behind God's dislocating of Jacob's hip. The limp itself allowed Jacob to understand that the encounter was an actual, physical encounter with God and not a mere dream. Jacob had seen God in a dream once before years prior (Genesis 28), but now he was having an actual encounter with God in the flesh. Also, when Jacob surely described this experience to his family, he had physical evidence to provide credence to his claims in the form of a wrenched hip. When we consider the answer in a more general sense, we can understand that scars help remind us what we have learned or experienced. Scars remind us of where we have been, what we have done, past hurts and future promise. The scars also remind us of our need for our Creator, as well as the physical scars which he bore.

Next, we can determine the following: since the notion of not eating the tendon attached to the socket or hip is not found elsewhere in Scripture, it was surely a practice that was in use between the time of Jacob and the time of Moses. As a case can be made for the Mosaic authorship of Genesis under the Wiseman hypothesis, we can presume that this practice was at the very least in use during the time of Moses in the 1400s BC. After Moses, the practice appears to have fallen into disuse. It apparently came into being as a result of Jacob's encounter with God and either he or his sons began this tradition which was carried down for over two hundred years to Moses' time. Also, according to Jewish Rabbis, Jacob was given the limp as a punishment for wanting to flee God and for not relying on him. There are a few issues with this notion, but it is still worth noting in our examination of the topic.

Finally, "Why did the struggle last until daybreak, if God could simple defeat Jacob with a word? Why did God wrestle with Jacob in the first place?" Concerning the matter of why God wrestled with Jacob until daybreak, the answer is fascinatingly simplistic when viewed in light of the above answer. Just as God gave Jacob a physical reminder to last him all his days, God also fought with Jacob throughout the night and into the morning to show to Jacob that this encounter was not a mere dream. It also brought Jacob out of the darkness of the night and into the light of day, both literally and metaphorically. It was at this point when Jacob stopped fighting with God and clung to Him instead. The limp and the rising of the sun were physical realities that showed Jacob God's mercy and provided Jacob with the incentive to not fight with God but cling to Him. God could have ended the fight at any moment, but wanted it to last for Jacob's sake. This fight was not for God, but for Jacob. It was not Jacob who initiated the fight, but God. It was indeed his fight against God, but he did not at first realize that the fight was meant to help him. This brings us to the reason why God wrestled with Jacob. Aside from the reasons listed throughout the article, we may examine one other reason.

Chronologically, Jacob was between his struggle with Laban and his upcoming struggle with his brother Esau. Then God came in. This necessary encounter transpired to show Jacob that his struggle had been with God all along. Without friends or family or other support around, Jacob was left to pray at Jabbok. God was still impersonal to Jacob, but after this encounter, he stopped calling God the "God of my father" but "my God." He stopped resisting God and finally gave in to His will. God used the experience as a sort of object lesson for Jacob, and we would do well to learn from him. It was after this experience that God blessed Jacob, worth noting as it is the second blessing that Jacob has received on record. The first blessing was not rightly his, but his older brother Esau's. Jacob used the art of deception (or so Sun Tzu may view it as an art) to obtain this blessing from his father. Several years later, we come to Jacob's physical encounter with God, but this time the blessing is rightfully obtained. It is given to Jacob by God Himself, and a wondrous blessing it is indeed. To be fair, Jacob likely always had struggles the remainder of his days, as the loss of his son Joseph for many years demonstrates. But through those struggles, Jacob clung to the faith he had in God. For many of us, we tend to metaphorically kick and scream when circumstances do not go our way, and instead of accepting the help of the great Creator, we resist it. If you have been resisting, it may be that the day has finally come. The night is over, the time for fighting has ended. It is time to cling to God and live in and through Him.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

[1] Mack, Jay. "Jacob Wrestles With God." Jay Mack . N.p., 2012. Web. 5 May 2012.
[2] Goettsche, Rev. Bruce. "Wrestling With God." Union Church. Union Church, 4 Oct 1999. Web. 5 May 2012.
[3] Zacharias, Ravi K. Can Man Live Without God. 1st. Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 1994. 144-145. Print.

Saturday, March 31

What Is The Book of Life?

According to the dictionary, a book is "a written or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers; a number of sheets of blank or ruled paper bound together for writing, recording business transactions, etc."[1] The Bible itself is a work of nonfiction. The Hebrew Bibles was written on various mediums, as well as the New Testament, including on leaves, stones, and papyrus. At the turn of the 1st century AD, the Roman poet Martial mentioned the convenient usage of a Codex (from the Latin caudex for "trunk of a tree" or book; the plural form is codices). The growth of Christianity is attributed as the major cause of the spread and usage of the codex format as opposed to scrolls.[2] A codex is essentially a bound book, what we have today. Some of our earliest complete Greek biblical manuscripts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus from the fourth century - one of the four great uncial codices (the other three are the Codex Vaticanus, Alexandrinus and Ephraemi) - are well preserved and remain in codex form. The Bible itself is a compilation of sixty six books (in orthodoxy), with thirty nine in the Hebrew Bible and twenty seven in the New. The Bible also mentions several books not found in Scripture, but for various reasons should not be regarded as canonical. There is one book mentioned in Scripture, however, that is different in nature than the others: it is called the book of life.

The book of life is a remarkable work. It is named as the "book of life" or "the Lamb's book of life" various times in Scripture, and alluded to as well. The book of life (ספר החיים or Sefer HaChaim) is essentially God's record book. Those who have eternal life by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior have their name written in this book, and at the Great White Throne judgment for unbelievers, "All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). Verse 12 notes, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." Put in simpler terms, imagine showing up at a wedding or a party uninvited. You did not accept the invitation but decided that you could simply not respond to the offer and go anyway. However, when you arrived at the wedding, you discover that a prerequisite for attending the wedding was to accept the offer, and thus, your name was not on the list. So it is with the book of life. Unless you put your faith (which is essentially trust) in Jesus here on earth, do not expect to enter into heaven.

Now, in the past, we have devoted articles to establishing the veracity of the Christian faith. Whether through archaeological, historical, textual, scientific, geographical or philosophical evidence, the attempt has been made to provide a rational defense of the faith and provide evidence for both believers and non-believers. Surely, these articles are not the most in-depth or scholarly articles as they are generally written for the laymen or those with a foreknowledge in Scripture, however, there are some topics which cannot be scientifically or historically attested. In the case of the book of life, we cannot scientifically verify its existence nor can we hope to excavate an ancient tel to discover it. The origin and current location of the book of life is in heaven, by the Creator of the universe, and hence it is metaphysical or supernatural in nature. Nevertheless, the book of life is one of the most pertinent topics to every individual who has ever lived and ever will live. Some will call it foolish; others will thank God profusely and accept His offer. As such, we may frame this as such: God took 1600 years, working with and through forty different authors to write and compile what we have today as the sixty-six books of the Bible. Of these sixty-six books, the overall message we find is that of God's redemption for mankind. In this compilation of books known as the Bible, we read of a book called "the book of life."

To ensure that His creation would be saved from the pit, God manifested Himself in human form, becoming the "God-Man." He walked and lived among mankind, breathing the same air and drinking the same water we still have today somewhere on this planet. The account of His birth, life, death and resurrection has been reported throughout the ages. Some have scoffed, others have accepted. He engaged in ministry for several years with twelve close followers, and by His unique claims as well as political and religious reasons led to His death on a Roman cross in the 1st century AD just outside of Jerusalem. Three days later, contrary to the claims of Jewish authorities as well as modern critics, God rose from the dead. He never truly died in spirit, but His physical body died. In this physical body, the infinite and perfect being took on finite and imperfect flesh.

Having this in mind, we find that the Bible refers to another book, the book of life - a book we truly want our name to be written in. One of the first possible references to this work is found in Exodus 32:32-33, which says, "But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written. The LORD replied to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.'" This reference is not wholly agreed upon by scholars as referring to the book of life, but if so, it appears to be our earliest reference (c.1445-1405 BC, from Moses), along with a possible reference in Deuteronomy. Similarly, Psalm 69:28 says, "May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous" (c.1000 BC, from David). Here we find the first reference to the "book of life." This is debatable, however, as it can also be translated as the "book of the living," and it is thought to be different from the book of life, and likely the same book as mentioned in Exodus 32. Some consider the records to be metaphorical, symbolizing the fact that God remembers what people do, however, the relevant passages appear to demonstrate that God keeps written records. The two notions are not mutually exclusive, and do not contradict each other.  Two other possible references in the Psalms are found in Psalm 87:6, "The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: ‘This one was born in Zion,'" and Psalm 139:16, "...All your days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

An 1859 Bible (David Ball)
Interestingly, Isaiah 4:3 may also allude to this Book of Life. It says, "Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem." Evidently, it appears that records are kept in heaven. This may also indicate slight evidence for the possibility that other books exist in heaven, perhaps in a sort of library. There are, at least, seemingly books in existence in the supernatural realm, and it is also possible that we will have some form of the Bible available to us in heaven as well (Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35). The next references we find to the book(s) is in Daniel. According to Daniel 7:10, as seen in a vision, "...The court was seated, and the books were opened." This corresponds to later references in the New Testament book of Revelation, as will be discussed later in the article. Daniel 12:1 makes another reference, "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered." Here, we find mention of those "whose name is found written in the book." This is in the singular, not plural form. In other words, it is likely that there are books which record each decision, action and thought of an individual, and each individual has their own book - but the Book of Life records the names (and possibly more) of those who accepted salvation and are allowed entrance into heaven.

Now certainly, it is hardly possible to discuss the book of life without discussing the "book of death," or rather, the "book of the dead." This is not referred to in Scripture, but according to the Jewish Talmud, on every Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), the book of life is opened, as well as the corresponding book of the dead. Of note, the Egyptians of antiquity had a book of the dead. There is not a single text, but rather it was utilized in burials for those who could afford them, and served as a guide in the afterlife. Variants exist, one of the more infamous being the Papyrus of Ani, dating from about 1250 BC. The Tibetans also have a book of the dead, called the Bardo Thodol. It is a funerary text, as is the Egyptian work. Although a slight digression, examining things such as the book of the dead enable us to peer more into the ancient understanding of these concepts. Regardless, the important work in Scripture is the book of life, also called the Lamb's book of life in Revelation. A final reference is found in Malachi 3:16, "Then those feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name." This may or may not be the book of life, but it does give us further insight into the courtroom of heaven - where the scroll (or book) of remembrance is kept.

In between the Old and New Testament, often referred to as the Intertestamental period, various non-canonical/apocryphal texts came to be written, such as 1st Enoch, the book of Jubilees, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, among others. To be clear, these books are not Scripture (as explored in other articles), but are useful for determining the beliefs of this period in regard to the book of life. For example, Jubilees (written c.160-150 BC) refers to two heavenly books or tablets - the book of life and the book of death. Jubilees 36:10 says, "...he shall be blotted out of the book of the discipline of the children of men [or book of remembrance], and he will not be recorded in the book of life. He shall be added in the book of destruction [or perdition]." Also, in the same vein as Daniel 7, we read in 1st Enoch 47:3 (written c.300-50 BC), "In those days I saw the 'Head of Days' when He seated himself on the throne of His glory, and the books of the living were opened before Him..." 1st Enoch 108:3 also refers to those whose "names shall be blotted out of the book of life and out of the holy books." Post-New Testament, the Shepherd of Hermas (c.AD 100-160) also refers to "two Books" that are "opened before the throne, the Book of Life, and the Book of Death, in which latter the unrighteous are recorded together with their evil deeds, in order to be cast into the lake of fire." The books of records are also referred to in 1st Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch (written after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70), as well as the Ascension of Isaiah (1st-2nd century AD). 

The next possible Biblical reference is found in Luke 10:20. Contextually speaking, Jesus has sent out seventy two disciples, and the seventy two (some manuscripts have seventy) return and say to Christ, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name" (10:17). Jesus replies, "...do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your name is written in heaven." In St. Paul's letter to the church at Philippi (written about AD 60-62), he writes, "Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the book of life." Clement himself may have alluded to the book of life in 1st Clement 45:8 (written c.AD 95), "But those who endured in confidence inherited glory and honor; and they were exalted and inscribed by God in their own memorial forever. Amen." Likewise, Hebrews 12:23 (written AD 60-96) refers to "to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." Finally, Revelation refers to the book of life several times. The following references are found in Revelation:
  • "Those who are victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge their names before my Father and his angels" (3:5)
  •  "All the inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world" (13:8). The variant reading of Revelation 13:8 says, "written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain."
  •  "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books... All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire" (20:12, 15). 
  •  "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life" (21:27).

What is the book of life? "The Book of Life is the set of names of those who will live with God forever in heaven. It is the roll of those who are saved. This Book of Life is also mentioned in Revelation 3:5; 20:12; and Philippians 4:3. The same book is also called the Lamb’s Book of Life because it contains the names of those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus (Revelation 13:8; 21:27). How can you be sure your name is written in the Book of Life? Be sure you’re saved. Repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5). Once your name is written in the Book of Life, it is never erased (Revelation 3:5; Romans 8:37-39). No true believer should doubt his eternal security in Christ (John 10:28-30). The Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15 is a judgment for unbelievers. That passage makes it clear that no one at that judgment has his name in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12-14)."[3]

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman 

[1] "book." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 19 Mar. 2012.
[2] Roberts, Colin H. and Skeat, Theodore Cressy. The Birth of the Codex. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Print. 38−67.
[3] "What is the Book of Life?." GotQuestions Ministries. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 19 Mar 2012.

Saturday, February 25

Misconceptions about Genesis

A misconception can be defined as "an erroneous conception; mistaken notion" or "a false or mistaken view, opinion, or attitude."[1-2] The Bible has had a major influence on Western society. It has influenced art and music, film and television, books and magazines, college courses, among a plethora of other things. As a result of this diffusion, while not contrived, the influence of the Biblical text has led to the formation of various misconceptions about what the text actually says. For example, a more common misconception is that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. According to the New Testament, however, no such claim is presented. In truth, Mary Magdalene is presented as a follower of Jesus Christ, who, aside from her presence at His resurrection appearances, is mentioned only as one of the women "who had been healed of evil spirits and sickness: Mary, called Magdalene (seven demons had come out of her)" (Luke 8:2). Another misconception relating to Mary is that her last name was actually Magdalene. Actually, Mary Magdalene (Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή) which has been taken by many to refer to Magdala, the town believed to have been located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). When it comes to the first eleven chapters of Genesis, we may also expect to find various misconceptions arise, and indeed, many have arisen.

To note, the title itself, Genesis, comes from Latin Vulgate (a 4th century translation of the Bible), which was itself borrowed from (or transliterated) the Greek γένεσις, meaning "origin." In the Hebrew, it is called Bereʾšyt (בְּרֵאשִׁית), after the words "In the beginning." Of interest, Cain named the first city in our history after his son, Enoch, which essentially also means "origin," though not specifically. In this article, we will attempt to address specific misconceptions concerning the book of Genesis. Note that in addressing some aspects of a misconception, some interpretation may be involved, with the reader may disagree with. Regardless, there are various misconceptions which many scholars, historians and laymen can agree upon, and we will attempt to note when there is open debate about a particular misconception. These misconceptions follow in no particular order, not of import nor of Biblical appearance.

Misconception 1: The garden of Eden was located in the Middle East, between where the Tigris and Euphrates are located today. While this is not out of the realm of probability, there is a low chance. The text of Genesis actually mentions four rivers, and only two of them were the Tigris (or Hiddekel) and Euphrates. Genesis 2:8, 10-11, 13-14 says, "Now the LORD God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good fro food.... 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 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 the Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates." People have struggled down the ages to identify where the Edenic garden was located, even the theologian John Calvin. Calvin observed that the description given in Genesis is mutually exclusive with the current location of the Tigris and Euphrates.

The modern Tigris and Euphrates rivers were most likely named after their antediluvian counterparts, as were other features of the post-flood world. When Noah and his family exited the ark, they likely retained the names of different landmarks in their world, and with that world gone, they used names which would have been familiar to them. The global flood would have destroyed the face of the earth. "If most of the sedimentary strata over the earth's surface (many thousands of feet thick in places) is the result of the global catastrophe as creationists believe, then we would have no idea where the Garden of Eden was originally located - the earth's surface totally changed as a result of the Flood. Not only this, but underneath the region where the present Tigris and Euphrates River are located there exists thousands of feet of sedimentary strata - a significant number of which is fossiliferous. Such fossil-bearing strata had to be laid down at the time of the Flood."[3] The location of the garden of Eden will continue to be debated by scholars and laymen alike, but the misconception is often perpetuated that the Edenic paradise was located precisely where the modern Tigris and Euphrates. If we take the context of the entire book of Genesis, however, the global flood does not appear to allow for this possibility. 

Misconception 2: The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve was an apple. Perhaps the most common misconception concerning the Genesis account; this misconception came about for various reasons. The text of Genesis itself does not state at any point exactly what kind of fruit Adam and Eve actually ate. What we are told is that they ate of the fruit of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." Granted, the fruit could have been an apple. Some suggest that it was a fig, based on the fact that Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). We may wonder, however - if the tree was a fig tree, why was it not identified as such, when figs are actually mentioned? The apple, which has become a kind of symbol for the fall of man, is not mentioned in the account of the fall. Greek and Celtic mythology both included an apple, which belonged to a love goddess and symbolized desire. To note, the legend of Heracles (Hercules) includes (as one of his twelve labors) a trek to the Garden of Hesperides. In the legend, Heracles is sent by Hera to retrieve golden apples - which are guarded by the Hesperides Drakon, a hundred-headed dragon. With this background, we may acknowledge two things: 1) the Greek legend may have been based on the historical account of Adam and Eve (although some will suggest otherwise) and 2) the account includes both a kind of serpent, and special fruit. The inclusion of apples in the Greek garden may have contributed to the misconception that Adam and Eve ate an apple. Also, in Norse mythology, apples are considered a divine fruit, and source of immortality.

Also, "When Aquila of Pontus translated the Song of Solomon from Hebrew to Greek in the second century A.D., he rendered 'I raised thee up under the apple tree; there my mother brought me forth' as 'I raised thee up under the apple tree; there wast thou corrupted' - evidently taking the verse to refer to the forbidden tree. St. Jerome, translating the Hebrew Bible into Latin [in the 4th century AD], followed suit, and the idea has persisted ever since."[4] Another possible reason that this misconception has persisted may be due to the usage of the word "apple" in Middle English (11th-15th centuries AD), which was used to refer to all fruits and nuts (aside from berries). Popular tradition has held that the fruit was an apple.[5] Renaissance art (14th-17th centuries) also adapted parts of Greek mythology into Biblical paintings, including the garden of Eden. As Greek legend held that the Garden of Hesperides contained golden apples, this was carried over into the Edenic paintings. Yet another point to consider is that the laryngeal prominence, which is the lump on the human neck found to be more prominent in males - commonly referred to as the male's "Adam's apple." Although tradition has identified the fruit in Eden as the apple, the Biblical text itself does not.

Misconception 3: The book of Genesis identifies the serpent in Eden as Satan. The biblical text itself only notes the serpent as "more crafty than all the wild animals" (Genesis 3:1). Where, then, does this misconception arise from? Before exploring where the identification comes from, understand that the claim is not being that the serpent was not Satan, simply that Genesis does not identify him as Satan. While Satan influences the serpent in Eden as recorded in Genesis (the first book in Scripture), Satan is not identified as the serpent until Revelation (the last book in Scripture). Whether Satan simply influenced the serpent, disguised himself as a serpent or actually possessed the serpent is beyond the range of this article. Conclusively, Revelation 12:9 says, "The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray," and Revelation 20:2 says, "He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (emphasis mine). The entomology of Satan's name was briefly mentioned by Justin Martyr (and early church father and apologist) about AD 156.

Justin noted, "Or he meant the devil by the lion roaring against Him: whom Moses calls the serpent, but in Job and Zechariah he is called the devil, and by Jesus is addressed as Satan, showing that a compounded name was acquired for him by the deeds which he performed. For 'Sata' in the Jewish and Syrian tongue means apostate; and 'Nas' is the word from which he is called by interpretation the serpent, i.e., according to the interpretation of the Hebrew term, from both of which there arises the single word Satanas."[6] Therefore, while Genesis itself does not identify the serpent as Satan, elsewhere in Scripture, he is indeed identified as Satan, "that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan" (Revelation 20:2).

Misconception 4: God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day. Often, well-meaning Christians, when describing intimacy with our Creator, will refer to God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. However, as with the other misconceptions, Genesis does not actually state that God walked with Adam and Eve during the cool of the day. In all likelihood, this misconception is derived from Genesis 3:8, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden." This scene was post-fall, i.e., after the fall of man. In other words, God is not described as having walked with Adam and Eve in the pre-fall world, and in this reference, when Adam and Eve heard God, they hide from Him. Surely, Adam and Eve shared an intimacy with God known to few human beings, and may have indeed walked with God pre-fall, but Genesis does not mention such an occurrence. The first reference to someone who "walked with God" was Enoch, the seventh from Adam. Genesis 5:22-24 says, "After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away" (cf. Hebrews 11:5). While Enoch essentially "walked with God," it was in the sense of following God faithfully in a spiritual sense.

Misconception 5: Childbirth/sex began after the fall of man (and/or) pain existed before the fall, according to Genesis 3:16. This particular misconception generally arises from a cursory reading of Genesis 3:16, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe, with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and you will strike his heel." Another translation reads, "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The misconception is then twofold: Eve would have borne children in pain before the fall, and there was no sex before the fall. As a result of socio-historical influences, many have been led to believe that sex in and of itself is inherently bad. However, that is an unbiblical teaching. Sex itself was created by God before the fall. In fact, the misconception here arises because of the belief that God mentions conception, and therefore, woman could bear children only after sin entered into creation. When it comes to the increase in sorrow and conception, Bodie Hodge noted:

"Consider that Eve not only went through the pain of child bearing during delivery, but she also had to endure the loss of Abel, her own son, slain by his own brother. Consider also Mary, who saw her son Jesus die on the Cross... it would be rare, if not impossible, to find a mother who has not seen her children suffer in some manner, from starvation to sickness, cuts, scrapes, and so on... in a pre-Fall world with no death or its associated aspect of suffering (Romans 5:12)... pain would have been non-existent. So an increase (where death and suffering entered the creation) wouldn't necessarily mean that this pain previously existed, but its mere entrance into the world made for an increase. From nothing to something is obviously an increase. With regard to physical pain, as in childbearing, a similar reading can be applied. Increased pain doesn't necessarily mean pain before. Consider what physical pain is. With your hand, you can touch a surface that is warm and you can detect the warm surface. There is no pain involved, merely sensation. However, if the surface temperature increases, at some point the sensation turns to pain. In the same way, if I were to put my hand between two objects that merely rested against my hand, then I would have sensation. But if the objects began to 'sandwich' my hand and continued to squeeze together, there would become a point where it is no longer mere sensation but pain. Increased physical pain doesn't mean there was pain before, but merely sensations that were useful. So pain wasn't a part of the original creation, but sensation - the sense of touch - was."[7]

Indeed, there are various reasons for the entrance of pain at the fall. An increase in the intensity of sensation, potential design changes (such as pelvis bones for childbearing), and the change from a perfect state to an imperfect state all contribute to this. But what of the misconception that there was no sex until after the Fall? In actually, after creating Eve, God commands Adam and Eve to "Be fruitful and increase in number [or multiply]" (Genesis 1:28). In other words, the first command to mankind was, "thou shalt have sex." This command was given prior to fall the before, indeed, God did not declare His creation "very good" (Genesis 1:31) until after giving Adam and Eve this command. Sex itself was created in God's perfect creation, between Adam and Eve, between "man... [and] his wife, and they [in marriage] will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Conclusively, the "pain" issue is simply a matter of an increase in the intensity of sensation, and the "sex" issue was not a post-fall "curse," but indeed, an ante-fall (pre-fall) commandment given by God.

Misconception 6: Cain murdered Abel with a rock or club. While in all likelihood the weapon of choice which Cain utilized to murder his brother could have been a rock or a club, the text itself does not actually say how Cain killed Abel. The text of Genesis 4:8 says, "Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Let's go out to the field.' And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him." To note, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac and the Masoretic Text do not have the phrase, "Let's go out to the field." Does the Bible, when speaking of Abel, describe exactly how he was murdered? 1st John 3:12 says, "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous," Matthew 23:35 refers to the "blood of the righteous Abel," Hebrews 12:24 mentions "to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel," and Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead." It seems as if we do not have a Biblical reference concerning how Abel was murdered.

Where does the "misconception" arise that Cain murdered Abel with a stone/rock? One of the texts that likely gave rise to this belief is found in the pseudipigraphal work, the book of Jubilees (c.160-150 BC). The relevant text conveys, "At the close of this jubilee Cain was killed after him in the same year; because his house fell on him and he died in the middle of his house, and he was killed by its stones. With a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone he was killed in righteous judgment" (Jubilees 4:31). The pseudipigraphal works, 1st Enoch 22:7 and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs 12:7, make reference to the murder of Abel, but not the means by which he was killed. Flavius Josephus (1st century Jewish historian), along with early Jewish traditions, also make reference to Cain and Abel. It seems as if the book of Jubilees, at least in part, contributed to the belief that Abel was murdered by a stone. Biblically, we may be able to examine a few considerations. After the fall, God "made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Genesis 3:20), implying the slaying of an animal. We see this in Genesis 4:4, "But Abel also brought an offering - fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering." Abel probably used a sacrificial knife (perhaps made of stone), and as Cain had seen his brother use it in action, could have used it, in turn, to murder Abel. Ultimately, we do not know how Abel was killed, as the text of Genesis does not say. Indeed, it could have been a stone or a club, but the text itself does not explicitly tell us.

Misconception 7: The animals on the ark were only two by two. There is a children's sing along that mentions the animals on the ark as "two by two." Popular media in general has also often portrayed the animals in this way. Those who read Genesis for the first time may read into the text the various misconceptions they have heard (including those aforementioned, more often than not), and thus, when they come across a reference to animals entering by sevens, an alleged contradiction presents itself. This is a case where a simply misconception lends itself to belief in a biblical contradiction. But no such contradiction exists. Genesis 7:2-3 records, "Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair [two] of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth." However, Genesis 7:8-9 says that pairs of every kind of animal, male and female, entered the ark. Is this indeed a contradiction? In verses 8 and 9, Moses indicates how many kinds - not species - entered the ark. As they entered the ark, they went in as male and female, simply the orderly manner in which they entered the ark.

Concerning verses 2 and 3, clean animals entered the ark in groups of sevens (7 males and 7 females), and unclean animals entered in pairs (one male and one female). Jewish dietary law has more clean than unclean animals, hence, more animals entered the ark by sevens. Again, there is no contradiction, but a mere misconception toward the number of animals. There were seven pairs of clean animals, and one pair of unclean animals - and both entered the ark in an orderly fashion, as male and female.

Misconception 8: Humans can only live to be 120 years old. This misconception comes from a cursory reading of Genesis 6:3, which says, "Then the LORD said, 'My Spirit will not contend with human beings forever, for they are corrupt; their days will be a hundred and twenty years." Is God conveying that man can live to be only 120? If that is the case, how do we explain the fact that Noah's grandson (post-flood) lived to be 403 (Genesis 6:13), or Shelah (403), Eber (430), Peleg (209), Reu (207), Serug (200), Abraham (175), and Job (140+ years, probably about 200)? Upon closer examination, God is not stating that man will live to be one hundred and twenty years old. Evidently, between the time which God declared this statement and the time of the global flood, 120 years passed. Whether Noah had 120 years to build the Ark is another consideration, as God commanded his sons and daughter-in-laws on the ark with him (Genesis 6:18), implying that his sons were old enough to have married. But his first son was not born until twenty years after God gave the statement, and hence, Noah likely had less than 100 years to build the ark. Regardless, God's decree of 120 years was the limit of years left for mankind to repent. According to 2nd Peter 2:5, during the time which he was building the ark, Noah preached to others, yet none but his family appears to have listened.

Misconception 9: Nimrod built the Tower of Babel. While it is quite possible that Nimrod led the people to build the Tower of Babel, the text of Genesis does not actually state that Nimrod built Babel. This misconception is based, in part, on an interpretation of Genesis 10:10, which describes the cities of Nimrod, "The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar [Babylonia]." As the Bible attributes the formation of Babylon to Nimrod, and Genesis 11:2 mentions the Tower of Babel (and its city) as being built in Shinar (Babylonia), and the location is later named "Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world" (Genesis 11:9), with the notion that Babel is Babylon, it is indeed highly likely that Nimrod built the Tower of Babel (along with others, of course). Again, while this concept can be derived from Scriptural clues, Genesis does not state that Nimrod was involved in the development of the tower Babel and its city. Aside from Genesis 10, where does the concept that Nimrod built Babel come from?

Nimrod has traditionally been considered the leader of those who built the Tower even from Classical times. Flavius Josephus (1st century historian) said, "Now it was Nimrod who exited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, - a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God as if it was through his means they were happy, but ti believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness" (Antiquities This idea is also taught in the Talmud (Chullin 89a, Pesahim 94b, Erubin 53a, Avodah Zarah 53b) and in later midrash (a form of Biblical exegesis), including the Genesis Rabba. Ephrem the Syrian (c.AD 306-373), a Christian theologian, held the view that Nimrod actually opposed those who built the Tower of Babel. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (possibly 8th century AD) also mentions a Jewish tradition that Nimrod fled Shinar, refusing to take part in the building of the Tower. Although early Jewish traditions appear to teach that Nimrod was the builder of the tower of Babel (and he likely was), there is no consensus, and the Biblical text does not state that Nimrod actually built the Tower (and/or) the city.

Babel may have been a Ziggurat much like this (Hardnfast)
Misconception 10: God destroyed the Tower of Babel and the Tower was built out of fear that God would send another flood. The last popular notion which we will explore again concerns the Tower of Babel. What does the Bible tell us about the Tower of Babel? "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, 'Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.' They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.' But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that they were building. The LORD said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand each other.' So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel - because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:1-9).

There are other references and allusion to Babel throughout Scripture, but this is the account of the dispersion at Babel. At no point does it state that the people sought to build the tower to escape a coming flood, nor does it state that God destroyed the tower. It simply states that the people wanted to make a name for themselves and defy God's direct command to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). Where do we get the idea that God destroyed the tower or that the tower was built to escape a coming flood? According to Genesis 10:32, "the nations spread out after the flood," not before (referring to the dispersion). Note also that nowhere in the text does it state that they did not finish the tower - another popular misconception about Babel, although it is possible. The tradition that God destroyed the Tower is not found in the Bible, but it is mentioned in Jubilees 10:26, "The Lord sent a mighty wind against the tower and it fell to the earth," as well as by Cornelius Alexander (1st century BC, fragment 10), Abydenus the Greek historian (c.200 BC, fragments 5-6), the Sibylline oracles (c.2nd century BC-5th century AD, 3.117-129), and a midrash mentions that the top of the tower had been burnt, the middle eroded over time, and the bottom was swallowed. Finally, in the History of the Prophets and Kings written by the Muslim historian Muhammad ibn Jarrir al-Tabari (AD 838-923), Nimrod builds the Tower in Babil, but Allah destroys it.

Josephus also mentions the destruction of the tower (Antiquities, and it from Josephus where the flood issue is mentioned, "[Nimrod] also gradually changed the government into tyranny - seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!" (Antiquities, emphasis mine). Jewish rabbinic literature also appears to allude to this idea. Although these traditions are found in different cultures, written in different legendary accounts, God's Word does not mention the destruction of Babel, nor does it mention the intent to build the tower as an attempt to escape a possible future flood (also demonstrating a lack of faith in God, as He had promised not to send a global flood again, see Genesis 9:11-16).

There are many others to explore, but it is not the intent to explore the entirety of these misconceptions or possible misconceptions. For example, debate continues over whether or not the serpent originally had legs - one may note that Genesis 3 does not actually state that the serpent had legs, simply that he would crawl on his belly. There are favorable arguments for each view, and through the ages, church fathers, theologians and laymen have been divided on the issue. For example, Henry Morris believed that the serpent did have legs, John Calvin did not. Matthew Henry believed that the serpent did have legs, and perhaps feet and wings, and Martin Luther as well as Flavius Josephus (1st century historian) believed that the serpent did have legs. It is also interesting to note that Genesis never calls the serpent a "snake," but a "serpent." Among this and others, as well as throughout the many books of the Bible, misconceptions have, can, and will continue to arise. Misconceptions are good to face, though, even when we do not necessarily wish to accept the truth or the possibility that our view was actually a misconception, as it would allow for a clearer understanding of the Biblical text instead of what popular tradition teaches. For this among other reasons, it is important to actually read what God's Word says, and attempt to filter out our misconceptions about it in the process.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

[1] "misconception." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Feb. 2012.
[2] "misconception." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 23 Feb. 2012.
[3] Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 3. 3rd ed. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2010. 15. Print.
[4]  Carol Alway, et al. Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. 4th ed. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, 1978. 330. Print.
[5] Macrone, Michael; Tom Lulevitch. Brush up your Bible!. Random House Value, 1998. Print.
[6] Justin Martyr. Dialogue of Justin philosopher and Martyr with Trypho, a Jew, chapter 103. 
[7] Hodge, Bodie. The Fall of Satan: Rebels in the Garden. 1st ed. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2011. 120-121. Print.