Attracting Flies with Honey or Vinegar

Posted February 19, 2010 by mjmurphythoughts
Categories: Theology

Tags: , , , , , ,

I was given an Intercessors for America Prayer Letter at a recent prayer meeting, and was a little taken aback by one of the articles.  It was titled Praying Everywhere, Without Wrath, by David Kubal.  Here’s the meat of the section that got me going:

If people would have told us a year ago that the country would be in its present state, very few of us would have believed all that has occurred. There is a disturbing trend in the midst of all that is unfold­ing: some intercessors are so discouraged, frustrated, and angry that they can’t force themselves to pray for the leaders that are in place. This is a more troubling reality than the current dire conditions!

. . . It is easy for us to complain, become overwhelmed by the pace of moral de­cline and negative change, and become bitter. Scripture warns that we must guard against this. (Heb 12:15) Instead of becoming beleaguered, bitter and passive, we need to continue to pray for our country’s leaders. (1 Tim 2:2) We need to pray that God blesses them beyond present realities and past what we can even imagine. We need to pray that they experience the same redemptive grace that each of us has experienced—it is only the love and grace of God that can truly transform their hearts and minds.1

Now I don’t want to malign IFA or Mr. Kubal, neither of whom I am very familiar, but I do want to take to task something here that is not constrained to either of them.  It is the “you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar” mentality that has clouded our view of evangelism and even our view of God.  We must be sweet, like honey, to the lost, in order to be used as instruments of bringing them to salvation.

David Kubal seems to imply that our prayers for our enemies should never include any harsh sentiments.  However, another David, the biblical king of Israel, did not share those convictions.  There are many Psalms that he penned that are considered “imprecatory” prayers to God.  An imprecatory prayer is one calling on God to execute his righteous judgment upon those who rightfully deserve such.  Here is one example:

The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies . . . . Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!  Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!   . . . He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, As in His living and burning wrath.  The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked, So that men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely He is God who judges in the earth.”
Psalm 58:3,9-11

I do not question Mr. Kubal’s Christianity.  Surely his concern for prayer indicates that he is one of the

“righteous.”  However, it seems that he would recoil rather than “rejoicing when he saw such vengeance.”  Would the thought of “washing his feet in the blood of the wicked” be anathema to him, even though it is Scripture?

Kubal prefaces his article with two Bible verses:

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, loud quarreling, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice …. Pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” —Eph 4:31; 1 Tim 2:8

While these are qualities that every Christian should posses, David Kubal is intimating that it is never okay to use harsh language, and that such talk is the overflow of a bitter heart.  King David, a “man after God’s own heart,” was not speaking out of vindictive wrath.  David was consistently gracious towards and respectful of King Saul when he was hunting him.  While David was willing to refrain from repaying the offenses against him, he fully expected God to recompense these same offenses due to their affront to Heaven’s throne.

Is Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44) incompatible with imprecatory prayers?  Many people think that Jesus was preaching something new here, casting off the “inappropriate” harshness of the Old Testament.  It is more likely that Jesus was rebuking the religious leaders of his day that had forgotten that the Old Testament contained similar encouragements to mercy as well:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.
Proverbs 5:21-22

All of Scripture is a record of both great mercy and awesome judgment.  These ideas go together, but many in today’s church do not bother to search the Scriptures to find out how.  Instead, the paradox troubles them, so they substitute unbiblical ideas that are more palatable.  God is reinvented sans judgment, and only mercy.  This was illustrated as I handed out gospel tracts one day outside a local pornography store, preaching God’s judgment to the patrons.  A woman toting an armload of flowers walked in, and then came out minus the lovely bouquet.  She then introduced herself as a fellow Christian, but proceeded to berate us for the harsh way we were doing our ministry.  She said that she had come in Christian love to give flowers to the ladies behind the counter of the porn store.  She told us that this was the right way to get people saved, since Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness leads [people] to repentance” (NIV).

This sounds very similar to David Kubal’s plea to pray blessings upon our enemies, “that they experience the same redemptive grace that each of us has experienced—it is only the love and grace of God that can truly transform their hearts and minds.”  Love is how to get people saved, right?  However, one can only believe this way by reading Romans chapter 2 with an X-Acto knife in hand, ready to cut out those pesky verses that speak of judgment.  Let’s look at Romans 2:4 in context:

3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”

Here we see how God shows his “kindness” or “goodness,” as the NKJV states, above.  It is shown through his forbearance and longsuffering.  He is patient with the unrighteous, who are “treasuring up wrath” for themselves.  Though they already justly deserve God’s judgment, he bears with them a while longer in order to give them time to come to the knowledge of the gospel, and come to repentance.  If we hide the great truth of the judgment-to-come from people, it is doubtful, that they will experience anything but a false salvation.

Preacher and teacher Ray Comfort has done yeoman’s work in combating the dubious evangelism message of reaching people with love and kindness only, while eschewing the law of God and conviction of sin.  He says that a person entering into salvation in joy has experienced a false conversion.2 He points out that there is no parallel in Scripture for joyful conversions.  The appropriate response is to enter into salvation in sorrow and contrition over your sin.  After all, how can we receive forgiveness for our sin if we are coming to Christ only for a more fulfilling life?  To illustrate this, let me give you a modern parable:

There was an emergency room where the doctors and nurses were in a state of burnout.  They were tired of all the negativity of the sickness and injury that they had to deal with every day.  They decided to transform the ER into a welcoming, joyful atmosphere, and in that way bring much more happiness to everyone that crossed the threshold, and themselves as well.  They installed a wet bar, festooned the place with decorations, and replaced their white coats with colorful costumes.  The party atmosphere caught hold, and before long, became preeminent.  One day, the ambulance roared in with a man with a compound fracture in his leg.  The man was wheeled in on a gurney, writhing in pain.  The doctors and nurses sprang into action.  They quickly started an IV of narcotic pain killers, and pressed a martini into his hands.  They threw a blanket on his leg to hide the garish site of the bone protruding from his leg, and plopped a party hat on his head.  All was well until the man’s brother came in the next morning to find the man curled up in a corner, “sleeping it off.”  He was aghast that the injury had not been treated, and insisted on transferring him to another hospital.  The injured man, when roused, would have none of it though, as there was to be a comedy show in five minutes, and a lovely nursing assistant was freshening up his drink.  The brother left in deep grief, wondering how the hospital could have let this situation come about.

Though King David’s imprecatory words sound harsh, can a Christian faithful to Scripture deny that God’s Word teaches an everlasting torment in Hell for those who die without Christ?  The end of the wicked is harsh.  Would we rather prop the sinner up in a corner and keep him happy, or should we perform the painful task of setting the bone (his sin) and letting true healing take place?

References

  1. Intercessors for America Prayer Letter, January, 2010.
  2. Ray Comfort, True and False Conversion (audio teaching)

When Does “Day” Mean a 24-Hour Day?

Posted February 5, 2010 by mjmurphythoughts
Categories: Old-Earth Creationism

Tags: , , , ,

Old-earth creationists make much ado about the Hebrew word for “day.”  It is a word that does have various meanings, just as the word “day” in English similarly can have more than one meaning.  The old-earth proponents use this to full advantage to cast doubt on the meaning of the word in the Genesis creation account, but it can be shown that their attempts are really much ado about nothing.

Old-earth creationist and TV talk-show host John Ankerberg gives an example of the old-age argument:

[T]he Hebrew word for “day” (yom) in the Bible has four literal definitions 1) a portion of the daylight hours, 2) all of the daylight portion of a 24-hour day, 3) a 24-hour day, and 4) a long but finite time period.  So why do I believe the fourth definition of “an age, a long period of time,” is the one to be used in defining the length of time of day (yom) in the seven creation days?

In the creation story itself, yom is used this way to describe a period of time longer than 24 hours.  Genesis 2:4 refers back to the entire “six days of creation,” when it says, “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”  Moses used the word “day” here to refer to an age or period of time without any reference to solar days.  It’s like saying, “in the day of the Romans,” or “in my grandfather’s day.”1

Ankerberg does a good job in giving the meanings for the Hebrew word, but his application of them is confused.  Genesis 2:4 does refer back to the creation account just described, the entire seven days of creation (including the day of rest).  Ankerberg has a reason for omitting the seventh day, but that is a subject for another article.  So, the word yom here is referring to a finite period of time, but it is not a long one, as Ankerberg leads us to believe.  The “day” of the Romans could mean more than 1,000 years, and “my grandfather’s day” could mean 80 years or more.  However, the context of Genesis 2:4 shows that the period of time in question was exactly one week!

What Is the Context?

The key to telling the correct meaning is the context in which it is used.  Take the following sentence, for example:

Back in my grandfather’s day, it took 12 days to drive across the country during the day.

Here we see three different meanings of the word “day” in one sentence.  It is clear what each of the words mean by the way they are used in speech:

  1. “My grandfather’s day” is the “definite period of time,” the time of the grandfather’s life span.
  2. The 12 days are the 12 calendar days that the trip took.
  3. “During the day” speaks of the daylight portion of the day, or at least the portion of the day spent driving.

When you learn the original meaning that the writer or speaker intended from the context of what they said, you are performing what is called exegesis, in biblical study.  One method of exegesis is to simply read Scripture in its context:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
-Genesis 1:1-5 (NKJV)

Here, because the author is speaking of the light, we can tell that the first “day” is talking about the daylight portion of the day.  Because the evening and morning (the dark and light portion of a day) are summarized in the next use of the word day, we can tell that it is a full 24-hour day.  An old-earth creationist is apt to try to bring doubt into this “plain reading” of scripture.  They say that since the word yom can have more than one meaning, we must apply the meaning, not just of a long, definite period of time, but a long indefinite period of time.  However, we will see that this is the most unlikely of all of the meanings of the Hebrew word in this context.

The Hebrew Understanding of a Day

To the American reader, the way days are described in the Genesis account is backwards.  It mentions evening before morning each time.  In the Western mindset, morning comes first, and the day ends during the evening.  Technically, a day starts at midnight and ends the moment before the next midnight.  The Hebrew understanding of a day is quite different, though.  The cutoff is not midnight, but sundown.  For millenniums, the Hebrew people scrupulously ensured that their work would be completed for the Sabbath day before sundown on Friday, because the Sabbath rest began at sundown.  The Sabbath continued until the close of the next sunlight period.  This definition applied to every day, but it was highlighted by the deadline to finish their work before the Sabbath.  Over and over in the Genesis account, we see the Hebrew depiction of a day.  Genesis 1 verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23 and 31 repeat the phrase “And there was evening and there was morning,” speaking of creation days one through 6.  Moses, as the writer or editor/compiler of the Genesis account, is speaking to a Hebrew audience that would understand that a normal day was being spoken of.  To imply that Moses really had one of the other definitions of the word yom in mind would mean that he completely misunderstood his audience.  If he had meant that the “days” were long periods of time, he would certainly have had to use another way to explain it to combat this preconceived idea of his audience.

Uses of the Word “Day”

How the word is used in context is important to determining the proper meaning.  The old-earth creationist crowd ignores this fact in assigning meanings to the word based on the preconceived ideas of naturalistic science rather than what can be learned from the biblical text.  The word yom is used many times in the Old Testament outside of Genesis, and we can see very recognizable patterns for the proper interpretation.  Depending on what qualifying words are used with yom, the meaning is influenced.  For example, when used with a number, or the words evening or morning, night and day, it always means a 24-hour day.

Uses of yom (day) outside Genesis:

“Day” with number – 410 times (in plural or singular)
“Evening” and “Morning” together without “day” – 38 times
“Evening”OR “Morning” together with “day” – 23 times
“Night” with “day” – 52 times

In each of the above examples, yom is consistently translated in the 24-hour day meaning.  Given this track record, it is egregious to insist that the word yom, when used in the Genesis creation account, means something besides a 24-hour day.  In Genesis we see yom used with a number, the words evening and morning and the words day and night.  It is as if the writer of Genesis were being emphatic that these had to be 24-hour days.

“Day” is used 2,301 times in the Old Testament.  Why only question Genesis?  There is no controversy over the meaning of the word yom in the places it is used outside of Genesis.  We do not have to wonder if Joshua and the Israelites marched around Jericho for 7 million years, or whether Jonah was really in the belly of the fish for 3,000 years.  The creation account alone is brought into question to make room for the evolutionary time frame of millions and billions of years.  Old-earth creationists are committing eisegesis, reading into the Scriptures an idea that is not there.

Eisegesis: An interpretation of Scripture that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.

Once proper exegesis is employed, the doubts sowed by the old-earth creationists fall away.  Old-earth scientific ideas are found nowhere in the text of the creation account, they must be imposed on the text.  Given the authorship and audience of the text (other important exegetical considerations), it is clear that the Hebrew culture would have recognized the description of 24-hour days.  Do not be cowed into doubting the “plain” reading of the Genesis creation account.  It is simply good exegesis.

References:
1 – John Ankerberg Show letter, January, 2009, Page 8

A Day Is as a Thousand Years

Posted January 22, 2010 by mjmurphythoughts
Categories: Old-Earth Creationism

Tags: , , , , ,

A common “proof text” used by old-earth creationists is 2 Peter 3:8, along with its companion verse, Psalm 90:4.  The argument goes something like this: these verses talk about a day being “as a thousand years” to God, so Scripture is showing us that days can be seen as figurative, long periods of time, not just literal 24-hour days.  Therefore, the Genesis creation account can be seen to be compatible with the evolutionary time scale for the age of the earth.  But is this a proper way of looking at the Bible?

First, a definition for those new to the term.  An “old-earth creationist” is a Christian who believes that science has “proved” the earth to be billions of years old, so the common interpretation of the Genesis creation account (that the days are literal 24-hour days) must be incorrect.  They seek to find an interpretation that harmonizes naturalistic science and Scripture.  Old-earth creationists are not necessarily evolutionists, though they do accept the same time frames as the evolutionary scientists.  The alternate viewpoint is young-earth creationism.

Here are the verses in question:

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
2 Peter 3:8 (NKJV)

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night.
Psalm 90:4 (NKJV)

Christian apologist and host of his self-named television show, John Ankerberg uses these verses to argue for an old-earth creationist position:

Moses also used yom (day) in Psalm 90, the only Psalm he wrote.  There he says “A day is like a thousand years.”  Peter referred to what he wrote in 2 Peter 3:8 when he told Christians: “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”  Notice in both places Moses and Peter did not say a day is a thousand years, but a day is like a thousand years. For God, “a long period of time” (like a thousand years) is like a day.1

Ankerberg references Psalm 90, attributed to Moses, to show that “Moses himself used yom to mean ‘an age, a long period of time,’ not 24 hours.”2 Now, the Hebrew word yom (the word for “day”) can mean a period of time, but before I digress on a subject that deserves its own blog post, let me say in short that the word “day” in English similarly has more than one meaning.  The key to telling the correct meaning is the context in which it is used.  These verses do not carry the meaning that the old-earth crowd purports them to.  John C. Whitcomb explains this:

In opposition to the literal-day interpretation of Genesis 1, it has been argued that other passages of the Bible speak of a “day” in God’s sight being as a thousand years. . . [S]o far from weakening the literal-day view, these verses actually help to strengthen it.

If “one day” in this verse really means a long period of time, then we would end up with the following absurdity: “with the Lord a long period of time is as a thousand years.”3

The obvious teaching . . . then, is that God is above the limitations of time.  One valid deduction from this fact is that God can accomplish in one brief, literal day what man could not accomplish in a thousand years, if ever.

The focus in the above verses is not on whether the word day can mean an “age,” but rather we are being taught something about the nature of God.  For God a day is as a thousand years.  For God a thousand years are like yesterday.  If these verses are telling us that the days of creation are “ages,” then we must remember that human beings were there during some of those “days,” namely the sixth and seventh.  Therefore, we need to offer another absurd reading of the passage(s): “with everyone one day is as a thousand years.”  Also, many of those age-long “days” were also experienced by the birds, fish, stars, etc., so we need an even broader statement: “with everything one day is as a thousand years.”  The way the old-earth creationists read the verse, it is not saying anything special about God, it is saying something special about the day.  This is turning the meaning of the verse on its head!  The verses are telling us that to human beings, and everything else, a literal 24-hour day is like a day, but to God it is like a thousand years.

How Would Thousands of Years Help Anyway?

John Ankerberg is quick to point out that “in both places Moses and Peter did not say a day is a thousand years, but a day is like a thousand years.”  He is deliberate about this because if each of the days were actually a thousand years, the earth would only be 6,000 years older than the young-earth creationists declare.  Ankerberg hopes the more general “like a thousand years” will give him some more leeway.  However, this falls far short.  If he thinks that a thousand is like a billion, which is what is really needed to be in the proper old-age ballpark, then perhaps he should run for political office.  Those folks in Washington spend billions as if they were thousands.

Old-earth creationist (and honored John Ankerberg show guest) Hugh Ross points out some of the early-Church fathers that didn’t believe the days of creation week were literal 24-hour days, based on Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3.  Of these, he cites Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Victorinus of Pettau and Methodosius of Olympus.4 The problem is, though, that all of these people believed each of the creation days really were 1,000 years each.  Ross devotes a chapter of his book Creation and Time to a review of a number of historical church figures.  The overview includes a variety of interpretations.  However, it is curious that he includes this list of people, even though they don’t seem to help his cause much.  One would think that Ankerberg would blanche at his friend giving credibility to the idea that the creation days were 1,000-year periods.  Thousands are of no help, when only billions will do.

It Goes Both Ways

Old-earth creationists conveniently omit any focus on the latter part of 2 Peter 3:8: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”  If we can use the first part of the verse as “proof” that the days were long, then we can construct an equal argument that the days were very short. Psalm 90:4 is similarly backwards for the purposes of expanding the scope of a day: “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday.”  Did you notice that Ankerberg rephrased that verse as “A day is like a thousand years?”  If we were to read it the way it was written, we might be led to a very different conclusion than he comes to.

In fact, Augustine proposed that the creation could have happened in an instant.  I have not yet seen a new offshoot of creationism taking up this cause.  Perhaps we may have to one day argue with the “micro-young-earth” creationists who think the days were really six seconds.  They would certainly win no friends among the evolutionary, naturalistic scientists, either.  But then, for all of their effort and compromise, the old-earth crowd receives precious little acceptance, and a fair share of chastisement, from the scientific community already.

Conclusion

Trying to use the “one day as a thousand years” argument is a poor attempt to reinterpret scriptures that are clearly giving a different message from what the old-earth crowd attempts to get them to mean.  The verses should not be misapplied to bring doubt on the 24-hour days of creation week.  It is forcing long-age ideas into the text where they don’t belong.

References:

  1. John Ankerberg Show letter, January, 2009, Page 9
  2. Ibid
  3. The Early Earth, by John C. Whitcomb, 1972, 1986 Baker Book House Company, p. 32
  4. See Chapter 2 of Ross’ book Creation and Time, Navpress, 1994

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.