Bible study can be an exciting adventure into the heart and mind of God. Reading and carefully considering its records, accounts and stories can literally be a life-transforming experience. Without the proper preparation, it can also be confusing, frustrating or even misleading. In order to make a good beginning, it is helpful to keep the following pointers in mind:
Set aside adequate time. You need a block of time during which disturbances and distractions will be at a minimum. The time should be sufficient to deal with the passage you plan to study and the issues in it without being rushed.
Choose in a place that is conducive to study, thought and prayer. The place should have access to study tools and other materials and equipment necessary for the task. It should be comfortable and as free as possible from distractions.
Look to yourself. Don’t assume that the passage to be studied is for someone else. Study it for your own issues and growth before anything else. Include prayer specifically asking God to give you understanding of the facts of the passage and its application for your life and the lives of others. Decide beforehand to obey what you learn.
If you plan to teach the passage, consider the needs and context of your audience. Are they believers in Christ? How much Bible background do they already have? What are their possible biases toward the passage or subject to be taught? Will they be able to understand you if you speak as you normally do? How long will they be willing to listen? What can you do to make them comfortable enough to learn and respond?
Make use of basic Bible study tools. A Bible atlas helps locate places and describes the geography of the Bible. A concordance lists verse references according to the words each reference contains. A Bible dictionary defines various terms as they are used in Scripture. In a commentary a Bible teacher or scholar discusses and explains scripture. A Bible handbook gives basic information and an outline of Bible books. Language studies give in-depth discussion of the Greek and Hebrew words used in various passages.
Use a basic and reliable translation. Make sure that the version you are using is accepted by a wide range of believers, and not just by a narrow sect. The more precise and in-depth you want to go in your study, the more exactly word-for-word the translation you use needs to be. Use a translation that takes into account the reading level and proficiency of your audience as well as one that is appropriate to the occasion and/or tastes of your audience.
Much could be said about the Bible as the Word of God and how it is to be read, studied and applied to daily life. These issues will be dealt with in other articles. For now, let me simply confine myself to some basic facts.
The Bible contains a total of 66 books in two major sections:
The Old Testament is made up of 39 books, which outline God’s redemptive work in the world before the time of Christ, and focus specifically on the nation of Israel.
The New Testament has 27 books, which describe God’s more complete redemptive work since the time of Jesus’ birth, and focus on the new, multi-ethnic people of God, the Church.
These books were written by around 40 different authors over a span of approximately 1500 years (1400 B.C. to 100 A.D.).
The 66 books of the Bible were written in three original languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic; the New Testament in Koine Greek.
There are several very good English Bible translations, which enable us to read and understand the sense of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts.
The various books were written using various writing styles, including poetry, history, logical argument, stories, prophecy, wisdom literature, etc.
Though each of the books of the Bible has its unique purpose and setting, a common theme joins each of the books into a whole, showing us God’s holy character, his plans for human redemption and his great love for us, demonstrated in Christ.
Here are some suggestions for getting a grasp on the overall message of the Bible:
Read Genesis for an understanding of early human history and the background of the nation of Israel.
Read Exodus to see how God’s covenant with Israel set the stage for his dealings with the Jewish people and his later work with the entire world by outlining standards of right and wrong, good and evil.
Read Psalms and Proverbs to find comfort, wisdom and help in the issues of life and in worshipping God.
Read Mark and John for a basic grasp of the life and identity of Jesus Christ.
Read Romans to get a panorama of God’s entire plan of redemption.
Read Acts and Ephesians to see how God has implemented a new covenant through the Church to include people from all nations.
Read Revelation to be assured that God’s plan will be fulfilled and his people ultimately given eternal joy.
If you are a beginner to the Bible, you may encounter parts of it which may seem puzzling, boring or hard to understand. The main thing in such cases is not to give up. You may want to temporarily skip over those parts in your reading, making a note to come back to them later when you have gained more knowledge or experience in this amazing book.
Remember: the Bible is not written in code. Both the human authors and God who inspired them, intended for us to understand the basic message. Part of the task is to learn some basic things about Bible times and culture as well as how to separate presuppositions from what is actually in the text. The other part of understanding the Bible is simply asking God to give you insight as you read and study.
What are we to make of the giants mentioned in scripture, particularly in the passages recording various events taking place in remote antiquity? In the Bible, giants are spoken of under various categories:
Nephilim. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, circa 200 BC) translates Nephilim as “gigantes” (giants) due to their superhuman stature. For example, in Numbers 13:33, the Israelite spies spoke of their experience of being in close proximity to the Nephilim by saying that they had felt like “grasshoppers” in comparison to them.
The word Nephilim may come from the Hebrew word naphal, meaning “fallen”. If this is the intent of the term, it would refer to their evil nature and, perhaps, even demonic origins. Genesis 6:4 says that the Nephilim existed both before and after the Great Flood of Noah. Their origins are recorded as being the union of “sons of God” with “daughters of men”. Two main theories attempt to explain this seemingly cryptic description:
Option 1: “Sons of God” are godly men. Before the Flood this could perhaps refer to males from the line of Seth. “Daughters of men” are ungodly women. Before the Flood this could refer to females from the line of Cain.
Option 2: “Sons of God” are a type of angelic being and “daughters of men” are human women..
The idea that angels could have sexual intercourse with human women and produce children is highly controversial. A spectrum of scholars discounts this interpretation. Among biblical scholars who are skeptical of this idea are those who point to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 20:34-36 that angels don’t marry.
On the other hand, those favoring the concept of “angelic procreation” counter by arguing that Jesus never explicitly said that they couldn’t marry, but only that holy angels don’t do such things. This point of view refers to Jude 6 as speaking of angelic beings who “stepped over the line” into some kind of forbidden activity, possibly hinting at the procreation of children with humans.
They also point to the mythology of Egypt, Greece, Babylonia and Northern Europe, as well as many other countries, which describe demi-gods, produced from the union of human women and divine beings, and which made a name for themselves as heroes. The children of these unions are described as being mighty men of renoun. Whatever they were, this group of primeval heroes probably forms the basis for at least some of the mythical figures, which appear in many legends and folktales of diverse ancient cultures.
Rephaim. The people of Rapha were a race of Nephilim who lived in the highlands of Palestine and Edom as well as in the eastern lands of Moab and Ammon. The Valley of Rephaim, located southwest of Jerusalem, was apparently inhabited by these giants before the Israelite conquest (Joshua 15:8; 18:16).
In the 20th Century BC the coalition of Mesopotamian armies led by king Chedorlaomer had defeated the eastern Rephaim just before being defeated themselves by the patriarch, Abraham. Some five centuries later, the invading Israelites described King Og of Bashan as one of the last remnants of the Rephaim east of the Jordan (Joshua 12:4; 13:12). Deuteronomy 2:10-11 records the Emim as living in Moab, and that they were considered Rephaim, being as tall as the Anakim. Deuteronomy 2:20-21 says that a people called the Zamzumim lived in Ammon, who were also as tall as the Anakim. The Zamzumim were destroyed by the invading Ammonites some time before the Israelite invasion.
Anakim. As the Israelites came into possession of Canaan they encountered the Anakim (Deuteronomy 1:28—“we saw the Anakim there..”). They seem to have been considered by Israel as a clan of the Nephilim (Numbers 13:33). Deuteronomy 9:2 shows that Israel had heard of the reputation of the Canaanite Anakim as being “invincible” because of their uncommon strength and height. Canaanite Hebron is said to have been a stronghold for the Anakim. After the invading Hebrews under Joshua and Caleb conquered Hebron and the surrounding country (Joshua 11:21; 14:12), the surviving Anakim presumably migrated to the nearby Philistine country (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath and Gaza).
Specific giants mentioned in Scripture include:
Og, King of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:11). His iron bed frame is recorded at nine cubits by four cubits (13.5 feet x 6 feet).
Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17:4). His height is recorded at six cubits and a span (probably 9.5 feet).
A huge man killed by Benaiah son of Jehoida in 1 Chronicles 11:23 is recorded at five cubits tall (7.5 feet).
A Rephaite named Saph was killed by Sibbecai the Hushite in 2 Samuel 21:18.
2 Sam 21:19 says Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod. But other Hebrew texts such as in 1 Chronicles 20:5 and the Greek Septuagint read: “Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath.”
Another Rephaite, described as being huge and having six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, was killed at Gath by Jonathan son of Shimea, King David’s brother.
The giant Ishbi-benob was killed by David’s nephew, Abishai in 2 Samuel 21:15-22. He had a spear, whose bronze head weight 300 shekels (3.5 kilograms or about 7.5 pounds).
So what are we to make of all this? First, we must remember that the passages which record these giants are all referring to times in remote antiquity. King David, who appears to have been responsible for destroying their last survivors in Israel and its environs, lived around 1,000 BC. That is, fully 3,000 years ago. The people for whom these portions of the Bible were originally written lived in or close to those times. They certainly knew what was being referred to. On the other hand, modern people have no experience with any such beings, and have difficulty believing that anything like them ever existed.
Secondly, ours is an age in which skepticism is one of the supreme virtues. For some people, even to entertain the idea of giants having lived on the earth at one time would be tantamount to rejecting everything they respect, and would result in losing the respect of their friends and colleagues.
Thirdly, it is now probably impossible to know for certain how the giants originated. Both of the two main theories discussed above have issues, which the theories don’t satisfactorily account for. The biblical record doesn’t bother to explain the how and why to our “inquiring minds”.
There are isolated examples in various parts of the world of human-like skeletal remains whose size is similar to that of the giants of the Bible. However, just as with any evidence of this kind, there is much dispute about its authenticity. Some would call any such evidence a hoax, no matter how convincing.
The issue of the widespread mythology of giants is a bit more difficult to explain away. Why do diverse ancient cultures speak in their legends and folklore of abnormally tall, strong and wicked men? Greek pottery even depicts them artistically in the same general proportions recorded in the Bible. Such a thing does not seem to be mere coincidence.
It could also be argued that this is simply proof that, in its infancy, the human race had a widespread belief in such beings. On the other hand, the Bible’s specificity of detail and description of these beings as abnormally large rather than monumental in size would point to this material at least as being more than mere mythology.
Knowing that various Christian traditions understand the interaction of sin and grace in a believer from different perspectives, here is how I piece together the biblical evidence (by the way that’s what theology is: a piecing together, weighing and organizing of what the Bible teaches):
Our Natural State: Total Depravity. As we are naturally born, our human nature is thoroughly infected with sin (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 17:9, etc). This does not mean that we are born totally evil. Obviously unbelievers are capable of doing good things. It does mean, however, that we are affected by sin in every component of who we are (body, emotions, mind, will, etc). The collective term in the scriptures for these components affected by sin is flesh. This concept that our flesh is thoroughly corrupted by sin is described theologically as total depravity.
Therefore, our natural situation is somewhat like having a virus living in our entire body, but which especially attacks certain parts (such as a sinus cold or the intestinal flu). The symptoms manifest themselves most strongly in places of special weakness. In a similar way sin, which affects every part of us, may manifest itself in a particular besetting sin, such as gossip, lust, theft, indifference to people’s needs, refusal to believe what God has said, etc. The manifestations of sin will vary from person to person in terms of where it is most evident and how intense it is (Romans 7:5).
The New Nature: Child of God. When a person puts faith in Christ, they are born of the spirit (John 3:4-6). At the moment of regeneration, something comes into existence which had not been there before. That is, a component of the human makeup (the spirit), which was previously dead, is now brought to life. This spirit is born of God and, therefore, is not affected by sin. This is the part of our makeup that loves the Lord, responds to his word and wants to please him.
Sin and the Believer: a Constant Struggle. So why may believers still sin? The answer is simple: because the flesh is not yet dead. In fact, it has not changed in the slightest. It is entirely possible, if they choose, for believers to commit sins that would be typical of the most unrestrained unbelievers, because the dynamic of the flesh is unchanged. That is, the tendencies of the flesh still pull in the same directions they always did (Romans 7:14-18).
That is why the scriptures admonish us to mortify (or kill) the flesh by walking in the spirit (Galatians 5:16, Romans 8:1-4). In other words, moment by moment we choose which nature we will live under. Unbelievers have no choice but to live in the flesh because it is the only nature they have to work with. At times it operates out of the remnants of God’s image and good training, in which case the person may do kind things, good things, noble things, etc. At other times, the flesh may be in a more actively rebellious mode, in which case it may do desperately wicked things. Either way, it can never truly please God because it has no desire or ability to do so (Romans 8:7).
Believers, however, have a choice. Since we now have a new, godly nature within us, we do not have to live in the flesh. As we choose to live under the new nature (walk in the power and wisdom of God’s Spirit) a pattern of godly living is formed in us that grows deeper day by day. The Christian life is one that necessarily involves struggle, and yet it is also one of eventual victory because it depends on God, not primarily on us.
Grace: the Key. One final thing to keep in mind is that the key idea in the gospel is grace. While we grow in faith and godliness, God understands our situation and is patient with our failings. Of course, some people could take this as an excuse for disobedience and immaturity, and so we must guard against this. But it is also reassuring because all of us fail and feel like losers at times. When we do, we simply confess sin, deal with it, and begin to walk in the spirit again in the faith that, as we persevere, God will transform us into the image of Christ.
The following discussion of the progressive nature of scriptural revelation is an excerpt from an email exchange between myself and a former parishioner, named Melissa. I hope it is a source of insight to any who care to read it. Michael Bogart
Melissa’s Question: Hi Pastor Mike,
I hope you don’t mind being my sounding board, but I have a very interesting question I would like your opinion on…if you have time
Okay…so Abraham gets with Hagar and Ishmael is born. I know God was upset with the fact that he didn’t wait for Sarah…but, was it still considered
adultery? In fact, many of the “godly” men spoken of in the Old Testament
seem to have committed what modern day Christians would deem adultery. I don’t get it.
Is this a case of “God blinking” at the sin…or was it something acceptable
for the time period. Especially, when reading about David and
Bathsheba…God talks about giving David the wives of Saul (2 Samuel
12:8)…how does this fit with the New Testament command to not even look at a woman in lust because you have committed adultery?
Confused enough for now? I hope you have time to give me your take on this. Thanks in advance, Melissa
My Reply: Melissa– You raise a good question. I think I would answer this way: Many Bible scholars (myself included) follow a principle called “progressive revelation” which says, in effect, that after the profound turning away from God following the Flood (Rom 1:18ff), he began to reveal himself again, starting with Abraham (Genesis 12).
As someone who is familiar with education, you know that you must begin teaching simple ideas and build from there–concept on concept, skill upon skill. I think that is what God did with Abraham. That means he didn’t “sweat” every issue that came along, because Abraham was learning the fundamentals of faith–simple obedience in the face of what seemed to be impossible. Later, Moses is used by God to set up a much more specific code, which the New Testament book of Galatians tells us was meant to be a schoolmaster, training us in the particulars of what holiness and godly living might look like.
However, the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) must be understood as primarily applying to a scenario in the second millenium BC. Applying its teachings and precepts to other venues must be made carefully and with lots of New Testament grace. Some things like the prohibitions against idolatry, murder and adultery are clearly universal principles. Other things like the kosher laws for food and the whole priestly ceremonial code seem to have been intended as specific for Israel. The New Testament itself sees it more or less in this light.
So, did Abraham do wrong in taking Hagar? Was David out of God’s will in polygamy? In light of the New Testament I would have to say that, yes, they were out of God’s perfect will in the sense that they did not live up to his perfect righteousness, nor did they model his original plan. Take for example Jesus’ teaching in reference to the Jews’ questions on the permissibility of divorce in Matthew 19. His words might be summarized like this:
“Yes. Moses did permit divorce –as a concession because of Israel’s immaturity and hardness of heart. But this in no way reflects God’s best plan for marriage. Go back to Creation: didn’t he create them male and female and pair them for life? Therefore to be true children of God, we should seek to live as much like him and follow his plan as closely as possible.”
In other words, Israel should have moved beyond Moses and the temporary covenant to the bigger picture. Certainly Hagar was a mistake. Although the practice of surrogate wives may have been common in that time and place, that was no excuse for Abraham. He violated God’s plan for marriage and showed a very disturbing (though understandable) lack of faith. But I see a greater truth here: God isn’t nearly as worried about some kinds of mistakes as his people often seem to be. Even David’s horrible sin with Bathsheba and the causing of her husband’s death didn’t result in God’s total rejection of David.
In both cases, God set a plan in motion that was contingent upon the choices and actions Abraham and David had made. This plan involved continuing to use them and bless them because of his grace while requiring repentance. His grace both foreknew and incorporated the new factors they had caused (Ishmael / Solomon, etc).
I think we evangelicals are a bit too “all or nothing” sometimes. God is committed to the redemption of those who will cooperate. Apparently he will put up with a lot to accomplish this. Of course Galatians speaks to the issue of taking advantage of God’s graciousness. Far be it from us to think we can do what we want and God will work it all out. Better to say–”Wow! What a great God. Look at how gracious he is and how much of my foolishness he has overlooked (and forgiven). I want to know him and his ways better and serve him more faithfully.” I think this approaches a truer understanding of grace than most of us who have been trained in modern biblical Christianity would dare hope for (or allow others to hope for).
I hope this helps. Pastor Mike
Would you like to be rich? A great many people would answer “Yes!” to this question without a moment’s hesitation. To some, riches are the ultimate goal in life because they are the ticket to all of the things people enjoy – fine food, designer clothing, spacious homes, hot cars, vacations, and all the toys that go with the “good life”.
Getting rich is a mania with us. How else do we account for the success of the lottery, the TV game shows or the fixation with the lifestyles of the rich and famous? At this point I’m not really speaking of those who dabble in gambling or the money games. What I am here concerned with is the unabashed striving for wealth for its own sake. I think of a young man I once knew whose goal after finishing college was to begin making $85,000 a year in sales. This is the love of money in its most obvious form.
There are all sorts of arguments for why having wealth is a good idea. For one, “Just think how much happier I would be and how much better off my family would be. We could do all those little extras that make such a difference.” Or how about, “If I had money, I could be generous in my contributions to charitable organizations.” The truth of the matter, however, is that wealth doesn’t usually either free us from unhappiness, nor truly raise the quality of life, nor give us the motivation for generosity. In fact, it oftentimes does just the opposite.
Let me insert a small disclaimer before I go on. There is no natural virtue in poverty either. As Tevye says in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “It’s no shame to be poor; but it’s not great honor either!” The answer to the problem of riches is not to do away with them completely, but in the seeking of something that is of real value. As Jesus said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).
I have known one or two godly individuals with wealth. The Bible plainly says that type of person is rare. Those people will tell you that their knowledge of God has come not because of there money, but rather I spite of it. It is probably their greatest source of temptation.
If not wealth, what should we desire? As Proverbs 30:8 tells us, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” Jesus bids us pray likewise in the Lord’s prayer, “…give us this day our daily bread…” We are to ask for enough to maintain a lifestyle that allows us to joyfully serve Christ with every ounce of strength we possess. When God answers this prayer either with the basic essentials, or with a bit of surplus as well, we can be content because our hope is not in money, but in the motto printed on our money – “In God we Trust”.
From time to time, various magazines and television channels tackle the perennial question, “Who is God?”. Much space is devoted to personal views of a cross-section of people concerning who, or what, God might be. Well-known personalities are interviewed as well as other lesser-known people from around the world, including professed Christians of different varieties, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, agnostics and free thinkers.
As a student of world religion and Christian leader I find such inquiries to be intensely fascinating because they give us the pulse of what people are thinking in our wider world. For example, a Hindu beggar from Benares, India, reverences a variety of deities and wonders why he has been stricken with leprosy. He suggests that it may be because he is being punished by Brahma for bad karma in previous lives.
A California woman was raised in an Orthodox synagogue but says she can’t connect with God or with being Jewish anymore. The idea of God as she has understood it simply doesn’t connect in her life experience. A British biologist views God as the “ultimate reality” and believes that the destiny of individuals is to be absorbed into this supreme truth.
A Columbian hit man describes life as a dark experience in which God makes each person pay for the evil they commit. Yet he goes on to say , “God pardons everyone who seeks him, so pretty much you can do what you want.”
A Presbyterian minister defends his gay lifestyle by saying, “God loves you just the way you are”. He blames strong feelings against homosexuals on traditional religion.
A Palestinian sheikh views Allah as a vengeful God, and boasts of his willingness to die in holy war.
These views of God are indeed fascinating. Yet even so, they ought to prod our thinking a bit. Given the fact that people have an almost endless variety of opinions about what God is, it certainly does not follow that every opinion is equally valid. We Americans cherish our religious freedom. However, simply because people are free under the law to practice religion as conscience may dictate, this does not mean that all religions are equally true, or even equally beneficial.
This brings up the question, “How can we sort through the menu of religious ideas and recognize the truth when we stumble across it?” The Bible’s answer to this is simply that the whole question of religious opinion is irrelevant. It is not what we think about God that really matters, but what God has revealed about Himself to us that counts.
To this many people say, “Wait!” Who says the Bible’s portrayal of God is any better than the views of an Indian peasant or a Hollywood producer?” This is an excellent question. If what the Bible says about God is simply just another human opinion, then Christianity (and the ancient religion of Israel for that matter) crumbles like a house with no foundation.
So let’s narrow the field a bit. The Bible does not belong alongside the religious opinions of ordinary people simply because the Bible claims to be divinely inspired. It claims to be God’s word as revealed through the prophets and apostles. There is a quantum difference between what your neighbor thinks about God, and an ancient and widely revered document that claims divine inspiration.
What about the other books which share this claim? Many Christians answer this by pointing to the need to simply have faith in the Bible. While it is true that faith is necessary, it would be wrong to assume that there is no evidence for the Bible’s final authority. Consider these bits of evidence for the Bible’s unique inspiration: the amazing unity of its message, though written over a span of roughly 1500 years through more than 40 human authors; its triumph time and again over those who actively sought its destruction; the dozens of literally fulfilled prophecies; the impact it has had on millions of lives.
Also consider the historical fact of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. I understand that many people consider this to be a matter for faith as well. This is true, but not without some evidence. A major piece of this evidence is the ease with which those who wished to stop the rumor could have disproved it by opening the grave and displaying the body. They didn’t. Why would hundreds die willingly, knowing that the resurrection which they claimed to witness was a lie? Indeed, the Resurrection is the foundational fact on which the Christian gospel was and still is based.
So there is compelling evidence for the authority of the Bible in what it says about God. It proclaims Him to be the Eternal One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It shows Him to be holy, yet also merciful in sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins. It invites us to know Him through Christ and become His children. This, and much more God has revealed. Why settle for mere opinions?
The basic question goes something like this: Hasn’t modern science and technology shown that religious faith is not based on objective reality?
The issue of scientific method is sometimes expressed in a statement such as: If you could prove Christianity or some other religion to be true scientifically, I would believe. Actually this idea is really pure nonsense because no one lives purely by scientific evidence in any other area of life. Even atheists cannot measure a kilogram of love or a liter of justice, yet most scientific people believe such things exist. Christianity (and all religions) deal largely with things that cannot be observed, such as faith, inner peace, morality, the afterlife, and the supernatural. How could such things ever be satisfactorily proven by the scientific method?
For example, science has mathematically demonstrated the fact of the Law of Gravity. Yet though science can describe how gravity works, no one really understands why gravity operates. The same can be said for electromagnetic and nuclear forces. They can be described, but why they operate remains a mystery, since each of these forces operates “at a distance” from the objects they act upon.
What is science? Science is based upon the scientific method, which is simply a research methodology used to discover facts about the natural world. The scientific method:
• Identifies problems
• Gathers information
• Forms and tests hypotheses through observation, repetition, and experimentation.
Hypotheses that can be proven factually or mathematically are considered scientific laws (such as the Law of Gravity); those that cannot be proven, but seem to be supported by a large amount of evidence are classified as scientific theories (such as the Theory of Evolution).
Scientism and the Supernatural. Scientism is a philosophical worldview which tends to reject religion on the basis of the belief that all claims to reality must be judged and validated by science. Scientism objects to religion with the following arguments:
God (or the supernatural) does not intervene in the workings of the Cosmos. Of course, this is not a scientific fact, but an assumption some people make, and is itself unscientific. Such a statement cannot be proven (just as atheism cannot be proven) because a person would have to have access to all the facts of the history of the universe in order to know that:
• No God exists
• On no occasion has God ever set aside the normal laws of the universe.
If miracles have ever occurred, they are, by definition, unusual occurrences operating outside the normal laws of the Cosmos. In other words, they are amazing because they are exceptions to the rule of natural laws. However, if an all powerful God exists, then it is to be expected that he might, at times and for his own reasons, set aside the normal laws of the universe to display his power and accomplish his purposes.
Accounts of miracles can be explained as mere legends or as psychological phenomena (the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus, the resurrection of Jesus, etc.). Again, science may dispute miracles, but it cannot always disprove them. For example, the validity of miracles recorded in the Bible is beyond the scope of science because the events are past and therefore cannot be observed with the scientific method. Scientists can say that, normally, water does not turn into wine in a matter of a few seconds, or that dead people do not return to physical life. But it is beyond the bounds of the scientific method to deny that these things ever happened simply because science has never observed natural laws to operate that way.
The biblical writings (and those of other religious books) are unscientific. The Bible and other writings are usually not intended to be scientific. People sometimes object to expressions used in the Bible, such as “the sun rises and sets..” (Ecclesiastes 1:5). They point out that this expression is technically incorrect, yet they often use the same expression themselves. The TV weatherman tells us that the sun will rise tomorrow at 5:52 a.m. and no one seems to be bothered by his unscientific choice of words.
Religious writings are intended to communicate metaphysical truth in ways that ordinary people will understand, so it is not surprising that, for example, Bible writers used common expressions to speak God’s truth.
So, is the Bible really unscientific? When it is read carefully, there is plenty of evidence that the Bible is not at odds with true science. Here are a few examples:
• Nothing truly new is now being created as shown in the First Law of Thermodynamics (the conservation of mass and energy). Ecclesiastes 1:9-10
• The universe is moving towards disorder and degeneration as shown in the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the law of increasing disorder and entropy). Genesis 3:17, Psalm 102:25-27, Romans 8:20-22.
• The earth orbits as part of the solar system. Job 26:7
• The uniqueness of the genetic code in various kinds of plants and animals.Genesis 1:11, 1 Corinthians 15:37-39.
The Bible also seems to describe certain facts and processes only recently discovered by science: the hydrological cycle (Ecclesiastes 1:7); the shape of the earth (Isaiah 40:22); the vital function of blood (Leviticus 17:11).
The Special Issue of the Theory of Evolution.
For the past century and a half, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has been offered as an alternative to Creation in explaining the existence of biological life.
Evolutionary theory claims that life arose purely through natural processes. According to evolution, life began as a result of certain unknown causes several billion years ago, possibly through an unusual electrical force coming in contact with a “soup” of mineral rich water. These first life forms were guided by an unknown principle of progress to continually organize their structures in increasingly sophisticated ways. The progressive principle produced the necessary “upward” changes required for evolutionary progress. All life can be explained by these changes (mutations) producing desirable genetic adaptations (survival of the fittest) over enormously long periods of time.
Evolutionary theory is often stated as though it were proven fact in contrast to the “mythology” of the creation account in Genesis. Yet the Theory of Evolution is itself crippled with various fallacies, such as:
• No genetic innovations of a truly positive nature have ever been observed. All mutations seem to be either neutral or harmful.
• According to world-renowned biochemist, Michael Behe, greater knowledge of cell biology shows that time and random change could never produce the complex combination of beneficial changes necessary to produce true evolution.
• The species barriers that separate types of animals and plants do not argue for constant genetic innovation, but genetic conservation.
• The fossil record found in sedimentary rocks, can be interpreted in a number of radically different ways. It does not necessarily support Evolution, but can also be seen as evidence of a catastrophic world-wide flood.
USA Christians make a real difference
Teams of Christian volunteers of different denominations – many of them young people – are making a meaningful difference to the South African rural communities they are working in, under the auspices of Jaron Ministries International of Fresno, California.
JARON Ministries, International of the United States sends four such teams a year and The Vessel was fortunate to be able to conduct an interview with a group of eight of these visitors when they passed through Pretoria on their way to Giyani in the Northern Province. Another 20 of their group were to have arrived a couple of days later from the USA.
They spent about a week networking with various projects in and around Pretoria, including the Wolmer Community Project and a project at Soshanguve and were hosted during that time by the energetic André Bronkhorst, a well-known organiser of Christian youth camps for Eksderde.
Pastor Michael Bogart, Director of the Jaron Bible Institute, explained that a Shangaan Tribal Chief had donated 30 hectares of land at Giyani for the development of a youth camp some five years ago and that it was to this on-going project to which his group was headed.
He noted that Jaron was also involved in another youth camp development at Cape Town.
“We are not only here to contribute our assistance, we are also here to learn and to see first-hand what is happening in South Africa. It was a real eye-opener to visit Soshanguve, where we never felt threatened at any time, despite warnings to the contrary,” he explained.
Pastor Bogart added that it was nice to see Afrikaans people working hand-in-hand with their Black Christian counterparts, which, for the group, had shattered many myths about Afrikaners which had been fed to them over many years by the USA media.
During his visit here he would also be involved in the training of pastors.
Dr Bruce Van Benschoten, a General Surgeon attached to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, stated that he had come along to determine the medical needs of the visited communities and what sort of assistance could be extended.
Another one of the group, the vibrant Christi Orr, a student, said that she was looking forward to helping to establish a food garden at the Giyani project, which would help supplement the nutritional needs of that rural community.
She said that they would be visiting schools to encourage the youth to complete their high school education and to be diligent in their studies. She was also expecting to help fence off the property and generally share her love of Jesus Christ with people.
“It is very encouraging to meet other believers who are so like me. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” was her spontaneous response in concluding the interview.
The group of USA visits with André Bronkhorst of Eksderde (seated, far left) and The Vessel Editor, Ciska de Beer (standing, far right).
Those of us in ministry are called to care about those we serve. In John 15:12-13 Jesus left only one commandment for his people to observe: to love one another. Truly caring about people involves first being aware of people and then acting toward them in love.
People awareness questions:
Use these self-evaluation questions to determine how “in tune” you are to the people around you:
• Of the people who served you today, how many of their names do you remember?
• What special events or unusual issues are you aware of in the lives of family, friends and others you interacted with this week?
• What percentage of your thoughts would you estimate are normally centered on yourself?
• If someone you spent more than a few minutes with today were frustrated or depressed, what signals in their behavior would you have noticed?
• Are you generally aware of how the people around you are interacting with one another?
o Are there times when it may be appropriate for someone to dominate a situation?
o When it is not appropriate, suggest ways in which that domination can be dealt with effectively.
o Who should deal with it?
Questions about our attitudes toward people:
• Are you in the habit of manipulating people and situations for your own agenda?
• Would those who know you well agree with your evaluation of the previous question?
• Do you consider people to be an interruption in your schedule or a natural part of it?
• What are some specific ways you might bring blessing to the people and situations around you?
In following Jesus’ command to love one another, we must learn to care about people enough to notice their needs and act on them. Taking active notice of people can take form in a number of ways, including praying with them, paying a personal visit, making a phone call, sending an email, mailing a personal note and enlisting others’ help to meet the need.
Discuss the following statement: Others may offer better products and services but no one can be “you” to the people in your life.