Bible Study for Amateurs #6 – The Bible Is Old

Context, context, context!

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – A Tent for the Sun

To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

INTRODUCTION

Ray Comfort in his book Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them quotes from Psalm 19:4-6 (NKJV) and writes,

For many years critics scoffed at these verses, claiming they taught that the sun revolves around the earth. Scientists used to believe the sun was stationary, but discovered recently that it is moving through space at about 600,000 miles per hour. The sun is traveling through the heavens and has a “circuit” just as the Bible says. Its circuit is so large that it would take around 200 million years to complete one orbit.[1]

So, is Comfort right? Is the psalmist describing the sun’s orbit around “the heavens” as opposed to an orbit around the earth?

THE HEAVENS DECLARE

Psalm 19 is a psalm of praise to the god of Israel, Yahweh. It opens with two lines set in parallel:

[A] The heavens are telling the glory of God;

[B] and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (v. 1).

This is synonymous parallelism at work. “The heavens” [hašāmayim] and “the firmament” [hārāqîaʿ] are synonymous; “are telling” and “proclaims” are synonymous; and “the glory of God” and “his handiwork” are synonymous.

For the psalmist, it would have been only natural to think of hašāmayim and hārāqîaʿ as equivalent. The Priestly creation narrative of Genesis 1 describes the Israelite god as creating a barrier for the primordial waters. This barrier is referred to as a rāqîaʿ in v. 6 and its function is to hold back the waters above the rāqîaʿ from the waters below it (v. 7). In v. 8, the rāqîaʿ is referred to by God as šāmayim. Later in the narrative, it is in the rĕqîaʿ hašāmayim (“the dome of the sky,” or “the firmament of heaven”) that God places the sun, moon, and stars (vv. 14-19). On the fifth day of creation, God creates birds that are to fly above the earth ʿl-penê rĕqîaʿ hašāmayim (“on the face of the dome of the sky”; v. 20). The psalm writer was likely familiar with the worldview described in Genesis 1 and his own cosmology reflected it.

According to v. 4, it is in hašāmayim that God “has set a tent for the sun.” This comports with the view of Genesis 1:14-19 that the sun (“the greater light”) is placed in “the dome of the sky,” or “the firmament of the heavens.” That is to say, it is in the barrier that separates the waters above and below that the sun is said to exist. But in Genesis 1, the sun as “the greater light” is said to “rule the day” (Genesis 1:16). At night, a different body rules. So, where does the sun go when it is not ruling? The psalmist tells us: “a tent.” This imagery makes sense of what we read in v. 5 where it describes the sun as that “which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy.” While in the wedding canopy, the bridegroom is hidden from view. But when he comes out, he is in full view of everyone. So too the sun is at night hidden from view in “a tent.” But when morning comes, the sun is in full view of everyone.

It is here we begin to see why Comfort’s eisegesis fails. In order to rescue the text from its implied geocentrism, he has to mangle the meaning of everything else in the passage. This is especially acute in v. 6 which describes the sun’s “rising…from the end of the heavens.” Rising relative to what? He cannot be referring to the sun’s orbit around the galaxy because he is clearly describing the sun’s effect on earth, as the end of v. 6 makes plain. So, what phenomena describe the sun’s rising from one end of the sky to the other? Sunrise and sunset, of course! Additionally, the sun’s orbit around the galaxy takes well over two-hundred million years and, in Comfort’s worldview, the world is only around six-thousand years old. If that’s the case, then the sun has never made a complete circuit like the one that the psalmist describes. Why would the psalm writer offer as an example of God’s glory something that has never occurred? But if the psalmist is instead describing something that everyone knows about (i.e., sunrise and sunset) then this language fits perfectly. Every day is evidence for God’s glory then.

CONCLUSION

Once again, we are left disappointed but not surprised by Comfort’s poor handling of the Bible. It makes you wonder what motivates him: finding the truth or confirming his own views? I think we all know which one it is.


[1] Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 12.

Amateur Hour #6 – “To Be Done with Sodom” w/Bernard Lamborelle

In this conversation, I talk with Bernard Lamborelle about his new project ‘To Be Done with Sodom,’ a comic book that serves as a fascinating summary of his book ‘The Covenant.’

Bible Study for Amateurs #5 – Authorship Anonymous

So many of the books of the Bible are anonymous. Why?

There Was No Spain? (Evangelical [Atheist] Eisegesis #1)

The “Exposing Religion” Facebook group seems to think Paul couldn’t have gone to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28) because it didn’t exist. Yikes!

Bible Study for Amateurs #4 – Two Pivotal Moments

86 BCE and 70 CE. Why are these dates important?

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Clay Under a Seal

To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

INTRODUCTION

In Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them, pop-apologist Ray Comfort quotes from Job 38:12-14 (NKJV) and writes,

Modern science has come to understand that the earth’s rotation on its axis is responsible for the sun’s rising and setting. The picture here is of a vessel of clay being turned or rotated upon the potter’s wheel – an accurate analogy of the earth’s rotation.[1]

But is this what the Joban text asserts? Has Comfort correctly understood what the ancient author is saying here?

LIGHT AND SHADOW

Let’s begin with a very simple observation about Job 38:12-14: there is no mention of a potter’s wheel. In his zeal for the Bible to be advanced scientific revelation, Comfort has added to the text an element not actually present. This is definitionally eisegesis and (as we have seen in previous posts) it is Comfort’s preferred method of interacting with biblical texts. He was tempted to do so here because the text refers to things like “morning,” “dawn,” and “clay.” Combining these words with the fact that day and night are the biproduct of the Earth’s rotation on its axis, the apologist finds a prooftext for biblical prescience. Unfortunately, this isn’t what is going on in this passage.

In v. 14, Yahweh tells Job, “It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment” (NRSV).[2] To what does the pronoun “it” refer? In context, the antecedent is “the earth” found in v. 13. We must keep in mind that when Comfort reads “the earth” he is thinking of the planet, but when the Joban author speaks of “the earth” (hāʾāreṣ) he is referring simply to “the land.” It is “the land,” then, that in v. 14 is “changed like clay under the seal.” Note that the author has said nothing about a potter’s wheel. Rather, he refers to “clay under the seal [ḥôtām].” The term ḥôtām refers to a means of authenticating documents that was common in ancient times. For example, in 1 Kings 21, when the Israelite monarch Ahab fails to acquire Naboth’s vineyard for himself and is left depressed, his wife Jezebel concocts a plot to get Naboth killed. She accomplishes this by way of letters that she writes in Ahab’s name and seals them with his ḥôtām (1 Kings 21:8). The impression left by the seal was sign that the letter had come from the king. While in the case of Ahab’s seal it is likely that a signet ring is in view, some seals could be quite ornate, particularly when found on cylinders.[3]

An example of a cylinder seal. This Akkadian seal features Enkidu, a character known from ancient stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Photo credit: Sailko (Wikimedia Commons)

With this background in mind, what is Job 38:14 communicating? In his commentary on the book, David Clines writes,

Just as a seal stamps on a flat and featureless piece of clay a design in relief, so the light of the morning changes the featureless dark earth: what in the darkness had no shape becomes three-dimensional, contoured features appear, and the landscape takes on its varied colors.[4]

Far from describing a planet rotating on its axis, Job 38:14 refers to the way that sunlight, when it stretches across a darkened landscape, makes everything visible and tangible. And in context, it is light that illuminates the world, revealing the wicked so that they can be “shaken out like vermin.”[5]

CONCLUSION

Once again, we observe Comfort reading the biblical texts in an eisegetical manner, and once again we correct him by treating the text with respect. His failure to deal with the text as the text is symptomatic of his overall apologetic which is rooted in laziness, misunderstanding, and, at times, deceptiveness. As with so many would-be defenders of Christianity, Ray Comfort would do well to abandon the apologetic endeavor lest he continues to make the faith he so loves appear to be little more than a circus.


[1] Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 11-12.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all citations of biblical texts are from the New Revised Standard Version.

[3] See the discussion of cylinder seals in Marian H. Feldman, “Mesopotamian Art,” in A Companion to the Ancient Near East, edited by Daniel Snell (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 287-289.

[4] David J. A. Clines, Job 38-42, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1105.

[5] Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job, The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 540.

Biblical Studies Carnival #187 (September 2021)

How is it October already? Don’t get me wrong – October contains what is probably my favorite holiday: Halloween. But it just seems like this year has flown by. Or, more accurately, that the years have flown by. My oldest is in eighth grade and my youngest just started kindergarten. And with the COVID pandemic, it feels like I worry for them more than I ever have. These gray hairs aren’t just for show!

This month I have the distinct honor of publishing the 187th iteration of the Biblical Studies Carnival. This is my third time hosting and I really enjoy doing it. You’ll notice a heavy emphasis on topics related to the New Testament. This is for two reasons. First, I tend to pay more attention to New Testament related topics as a force of habit. Second, it seemed like there was more put out in the month of September on the New Testament than on the Hebrew Bible, Apocryphal literature, and other non-NT related subjects. (Or maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. I am an amateur after all!)

In any event, I hope you enjoy my contribution this month.


Hebrew Bible/Hebrew Bible Background

Apocrypha/Dead Sea Scrolls

New Testament and Early Christian Literature

Misc.


Well, that’s it for this month! If you’re interested in hosting the carnival on your blog, contact Phil Long either on Twitter (@Plong42) or by email (plong42@gmail.com). It’s a great way to showcase your website and it exposes you to the work of others across the blogosphere and more. Dr. Long is looking for people to host in 2022. So, reach out to him and sign up!

In the meantime, here’s who is hosting the carnival in the next few months:

188 October 2021 (Due November 1) –  Jim West,  Zwingli Redivivus  @drjewest
189 November 2021 (Due December 1)  – Bob MacDonald at Dust  @drmacdonald
190 December 2021 (Due January 1) – Phillip Long, Reading Acts  @plong42

Bible Study for Amateurs #3 – Which Bible?

People tend to speak of the Bible. But is there only one?

Bible Study for Amateurs #2 – The Greatest Story Never Told

Is the Bible more of a book or a library?