Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Circumcised the Eighth Day

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 Genesis 17:12 (NKJV) and writes,

Why was circumcision to be carried out on the eighth day? Medical science has only recently discovered that blood-clotting in a newborn reaches its peak on the eighth day, then drops. This is the day that the coagulating factor in the blood, called prothrombin, is the highest.[1]

Is this why circumcision was to be done on the eighth day following birth? Or is there are more mundane explanation rooted in the world of the biblical author?

CIRCUMCISED THE EIGHTH DAY

When my son was born, he was almost immediately given a shot of vitamin K. The reason for this is that virtually all infants come into the world with deficient levels of vitamin K. Because vitamin K is an important component of blood clotting, a shot of it decreases the likelihood that an infant could bleed out. The Centers for Disease Control notes that vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) is a risk for babies from birth to even past the six-week mark. Given that VKDB has a 20% mortality rate among those who have not received the shot, getting it to an infant as soon as possible can be lifesaving.[2]

My son received vitamin K minutes after birth and was circumcised just two days later with no issues, no doubt thanks in part to the shot. In fact, there is evidence to show an 82% decrease in the risk of bleeding following a circumcision in infants who received vitamin K versus those who do not.[3] Given that this practice of bolstering infants’ clotting mechanisms didn’t begin until the 1960s, the risks to babies who were circumcised before that time would have been greater. And since VKDB is not merely a risk for infants in the first few days of life, even circumcising on the eighth day would have posed a risk in antiquity. To be on the safe side, wouldn’t it have been wiser of God to command that sons be circumcised closer to their first year of age?[4] Why then the eighth day?

In Genesis 17, Yahweh appears to Abram and instructs him that the covenant between the deity and Abram as well as his offspring entails the rite of circumcision. “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (v. 11). This act of circumcision, per divine command, is to be done when a male is eight days old (v. 12). The text never explains why the sign is to be administered when the infant is eight days old as opposed to the first day or at a year old. And unfortunately for Abram, his thirteen-year-old son Ishmael, and his male slaves, the rite of circumcision was given well after the eight-day mark (vv. 23-27). (It is easy to imagine that the pain a ninety-nine-year-old man might experience having his foreskin removed is of a different quality than that of an eight-day-old.) As noted above, Ray Comfort thinks the ritual was to be done at eight days because that is when the ability of a newborn’s body to clot reaches its peak. But is this the most parsimonious explanation?

The rite of circumcision was not unique to Israelites, and it certainly did not originate with them. In his book Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery, historian David Gollaher observes that the earliest extant evidence of circumcision comes from the middle of the third millennium BCE in ancient Egypt. On the wall of a tomb, one finds “a well-preserved bas-relief of temple priests in the act of cutting the genitals of two young noblemen.”[5] Inscriptions on the wall give the impression that the surgery could lead to intense pain such that the recently circumcised might pass out. “The Egyptian ritual must have presented an opportunity for a youth, on the threshold of manhood, to demonstrate his mastery over bodily pain,” Gollaher opines.[6] Indeed, among cultures that practiced it, circumcision was often tied to puberty or marriage.[7] What set the Israelite practice apart was that instead of being performed on adolescents or adult males, it was administered on sons that were but eight days old. Consequently, circumcision was no longer tied to puberty or marriage. But this doesn’t mean that it was entirely untethered. Within the corpus of the biblical texts, there are some hints as to why the rite was given to infants on the eighth day following birth.

In Leviticus 12, Yahweh tells Moses that when a woman gives birth to a son, she is unclean for seven days (v. 2). The seven-day formula is connected explicitly to menstruation which, per Leviticus 15:19, results in a seven-day period of uncleanness. If the woman is unclean for seven days, naturally this would mean that she is clean on the eighth. Her renewed status coincides with the timing of her son’s circumcision which, Leviticus 12:3 tells us, is to happen on the eighth day following birth. The question then is, Why the eighth day? The answer is that in all likelihood the child was considered unclean. In Leviticus 15, it is explicit that anyone who comes into contact with what a menstruating woman has touched is unclean. Moreover, a man that has a sexual encounter with a menstruating woman that results in him coming into contact with “her impurity,” that is her, her menstrual flow, is also unclean for seven days (v. 24). Given the explicit connection between childbirth and menstruation and that the child would have necessarily come into contact with his mother’s sexual organs and blood, it stands to reason that the text of Leviticus 12 is implying the newborn son was also unclean.[8] It is only when this ritual impurity begins to subside on the eighth day that the male infant is given the sign of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh. Shaye Cohen notes that the connection between circumcision and impurity not only existed in other cultures but that the removal of the foreskin signifies some kind of purified status.[9] This is almost certainly implied by Yahweh’s command to Abram in Genesis 17 for he warns the patriarch in v. 14 that “[a]ny uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

CONCLUSION

Comfort’s definitionally eisegetical attempts at understanding circumcision on the eighth day demonstrates his ignorance of the Bible, his disrespect of it, or both. A likely explanation for circumcision on the eighth day following birth is readily available simply by reading these texts in their own context.


[1] Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 13-14.

[2] See Centers for Disease Control, “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s): Vitamin K and the Vitamin K Shot Given at Birth” (last reviewed 1.1.21), cdc.gov.

[3] Rebecca Decker, “Evidence on: The Vitamin K Shot in Newborns” (updated on 4.9.19), evidencebasedbirth.com.

[4] Or, were he an intelligent designer, why not allow infants to be born with a sufficient level of vitamin K?

[5] David L. Gollaher, Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery (New York: Basic Books, 2000),1.

[6] Gollaher, Circumcision, 2.

[7] Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 125.

[8] Matthew Thiessen, Jesus and the Forces of Death: The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity Within First-Century Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020), 33.

[9] Shaye J.D. Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised? Gender and Covenant in Judaism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 19.

Amateur Hour #7 – “The Anti-Strobel” w/Vi La Bianca

In this episode, I have a conversation with Vi La Bianca, the “Anti-Strobel,” on journalism, the Bible, and more.

Bible Study for Amateurs #10 – Is the Synoptics’ Three-Hour Darkness a Solar Eclipse?

When Jesus died, the Gospel of Mark says that there was darkness over the world for three hours. What in the world happened?

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Wearing Out Like a Garment

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 Hebrews 1:10-11 (NKJV) and writes,

The Bible tells us three times that the earth is wearing out like a garment. This is what the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the Law of Increasing Entropy) states: that in all physical processes, every ordered system over time tends to become more disordered. Everything is running down and wearing out as energy is becoming less and less available for use. That means the universe will eventually “wear out.” This wasn’t discovered by science until fairly recently.[1]

Has Comfort gotten this one right?

THE ETERNAL GOD

Let’s begin with asking a related question: Why does Comfort quote Hebrews 1:10-11 and not Psalm 102:25-26? It is possible that the apologist was simply unaware of the source of the citation in Hebrews. But if we examine Psalm 102, we can quickly see how Comfort has misappropriated the biblical texts.

Psalm 102 is a prayer to Yahweh, a request for help in a time of dire need (vv. 1-2). The psalmist laments that his “days pass away like smoke” (v. 3) and that he is wasting away, all alone (vv. 4-7). He is taunted by his enemies (v. 8) and has been “thrown…aside” by God (vv. 9-10). “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass,” he laments in v. 11. The language used here evokes ancient sundials used in various cultures, including Israel.[2] As the sun begins to set, the shadow cast by the dial grows longer. But there comes a point when the shadow is gone completely, when the sun’s light no longer reaches the dial and night sets in. The writer of Psalm 102 is acknowledging the impermanence of his own life.

“But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever,” the psalmist begins in v. 12, “your name endures to all generations” (v. 12). In stark contrast to his own existence, the author asserts that Yahweh will forever be king. In the verses that follow (vv. 13-22), he requests that Yahweh restore Israel to a place of prominence among the nations. In vv. 23-24, the contrast between human mortality and divine immortality is once again brought to the foreground: “’O my God,’ I say, ‘do not take me away at the midpoint of my life, you whose years endure throughout all generations’” (v. 24). This is the immediate context of the verses quoted by Comfort from Hebrews 1:10-11.[3] Thus, when the psalmist says in v. 26 that earth and heaven “will perish, but you endure,” he is extrapolating from his own experience and observation that the only thing that has remained constant throughout his people’s history is their god, Yahweh, a being whose eternality “makes even the heavens seem ephemeral.”[4]

In the final verse of the psalm, it is clear that it is Yahweh’s eternality that secures Israel’s hope for the future: “The children of your servants shall live secure; their offspring shall be established in your presence.” Note the way the psalmist’s language; it is not merely the servants who have this hope but their children and offspring. Why? Because, in the words of v. 27, Yahweh’s “years have no end.” Again, the emphasis in this psalm is upon the impermanence of the human experience and the permanence of Yahweh.[5]

CONCLUSION

While it is arguably the case that the psalmist is speaking of the entropy of earth and heaven, we have no evidence he was aware of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Instead, he drew upon personal experience and observation to extrapolate that even the ground beneath his feet and the sky above his head were prone to wearing out. Specifically, because he viewed the god of Israel as the only eternal entity, it followed that everything else in creation was contingent and would one day pass away. But the psalmist’s main point is theological: Israel can rest assured because its god doesn’t wear out. He remains as he ever was, as the Great I Am.


[1] Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 13.

[2] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, vol. 3 – The Writings (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2019), 237. E.g., 2 Kings 20:11, Isaiah 38:8.

[3] Setting aside, of course, that the author of Hebrews is quoting from the LXX.

[4] Alter, The Hebrew Bible, vol. 3 – The Writings, 239.

[5] Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 437.

3 Bad Reasons to Believe the Bible Is Inerrant

Dr. Danny Akin has three reasons for believing the Bible is free from error. And they’re really bad.

Bible Study for Amateurs #9 – Is the Atheist the Fool of Psalm 14:1?

A look at an oft-misunderstood verse in the Bible.

‘Paul the Apostle’ by J. Albert Harrill: A Brief Review

In J. Albert Harrill’s 2012 volume Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context (Cambridge University Press), the professor of classics brings to life one of history’s most enigmatic characters. Situating him in his ancient Jewish and, fundamentally, Roman contexts, Harrill offers readers a glimpse of a man who commitments to apocalypticism ran deep. And with this apocalyptic outlook, Paul employed his rhetorical training to convince non-Jews to follow the Jewish messiah. The work covers six main topics: Paul’s journey from a Pharisee who persecuted Christ followers to an apostle of the risen Lord (ch. 1), the formation of Christ-following communities in the Mediterranean (ch. 2), Paul as influenced by his Roman context (ch. 3), Paul’s reception among early Christians following his death (ch. 4), the tug of war over the apostle’s legacy in the second century and beyond (ch. 5), and, in a chapter entitled “How the West Got Paul Wrong,” a conversation about appropriation of Paul by people like Augustine and Luther and how they distorted the apostle’s words. At the end of the volume, readers will find appendices covering the order in which Pauline and Deutero-Pauline material was composed, a reconstruction of the Corinthian correspondence, and a list of ancient Christian works that offer stories about the apostle.

Harrill’s work is informative in several ways. As already noted above, it places Paul within his Roman context, not as an anti-imperialism apostle but as one at home with Roman forms of rhetoric and ideals. Harrill writes, “We need to move beyond thinking about Romanness as a bounded entity against which the ‘opposing’ cultural identity of Paul can then be contrasted or otherwise measured. Paul’s experience of Roman culture, his way of ‘being Roman,’ involved various subcultures, including Jewish ones” (p. 79). Take, for example, “Paul’s language of authority” (p. 80) in which he used his clout (auctoritas) to influence his readers. That is, Paul didn’t attempt to sway his readers on the grounds he was an apostle imbued with authority but instead sought to persuade them because of his deeds. To Christ-followers in Thessalonica, Paul describes the events of the initial mission and his work with them, writing, “Though able to throw our weight around as Christ’s apostles, we instead came into your midst with gentleness, as a nurse who cares for her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, my translation). Elsewhere, Paul rejects the rights he possesses an apostle, preferring instead to what he has done rather than who he is (e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:1-6, 12-18). This use of auctoritas, Harrill observes, “resembles [the emperor] Augustine’s refusal of honors in the Res Gestae” (p. 83). Paul, in other words, argued like a Roman.

Though only a little more than 200 pages in length, Paul the Apostle should prove to be an invaluable introduction to one of Christianity’s most eccentric and perplexing personas. Coupled with works like Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle by Paula Fredriksen, Paul and the Gentile Problem by Matthew Thiessen, Reading Paul within Judaism by Mark Nanos, and others within the Paul-within-Judaism camp, this book will give its readers the opportunity to see a Paul that is more in tune with his historical context.

The Roundup – 11.6.21

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The First Law of Thermodynamics and Creation

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

INTRODUCTION

In his book Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them, professional eisegete Ray Comfort quotes from Genesis 2:1 (NKJV) and writes,

The Hebrew word used here is the past definite tense for the verb “finished,” indicating an action completed in the past, never again to occur. The creation was “finished” – once and for all. That is exactly what the First Law of Thermodynamics says.

This law (also referred to as the Law of the Conservation of Energy and/or Mass) states that neither matter nor energy can be either created or destroyed. There is no “creation” ongoing today. It is “finished” exactly as the Bible says.[1]

Given his track record from the other posts in this series, you know that Comfort has misunderstood either the science, the Bible, or both.

THE CLOSE OF CREATION

Genesis 2:1 is the victim of the sometimes-arbitrary chapter and verse divisions that have been a staple of Bible translations for the last few centuries. Ideally, 2:1-2:4a would be 1:31-34 given the way this section fits with the narrative of Genesis 1.[2] Regardless, 2:1-2:4a describe the seventh day of creation with 2:1 offering a summary statement of God’s creative work from the previous thirty-one verses: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude” (NRSV).[3] The process that began in Genesis 1:1 has now been “finished.” It is this word that Comfort latches onto in his discussion.

The pop-apologist contends that the word rendered “finished” in the NKJV is “the past definite tense” that “indicat[es] an action completed in the past, never again to occur.” The word in question is vaykullû.[4] In form, it is a Pual Imperfect from the verb kalah (“he finishes” or “he completes”). With the vav conjunction prefixing the verb, vaykullû is used to communicate the logical completion of a series of events, in this case the formation of “the heavens and the earth.” Whether the biblical author intended this to be seen as intensive is a matter of interpretation. What is clear, however, is that the action taken over those seven days represents God’s creative act to form the world as the author knows it. Given that it was composed before the rise of apocalyptic literature, Comfort is perhaps correct that the idea is God would never create again. But therein lies a problem.

In Isaiah 65, Yahweh explains how he will restore the world following his judgment upon Israel and the nations. In v. 9, he promises to “bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains.” Then in v. 17 we read this: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Now, according to Comfort, the use of “finished” in Genesis 2:1 is indicative of an action never again to repeated. But if this is the case, Isaiah 65:17 is a direct contradiction. For if creation is an event that will only happen once, then there can never be a creation of a “new heavens and a new earth.”

This also complicates the notion that Genesis 2:1 is a reference to the First Law of Thermodynamics. Per Comfort, the law states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed: “There is no ‘creation’ ongoing today,” he writes. But if this is the case, then there can be no “creation” in the future either, or else the First Law isn’t really a “law,” i.e., exceptionless. Thus, using Comfort’s hermeneutic, either Genesis 2:1 is right or Isaiah 65:17 is, but they cannot both be correct.

Moreover, based upon Comfort’s understanding of Genesis 2:1 and the First Law, we are left with another contradiction. Astronomers have observed places in the universe in which stars are being born.[5] Per Comfort’s understanding, stars were created on the fourth day and “[t]here is no ‘creation’ ongoing.” Unless our eyes deceive us, Comfort cannot possibly be correct. Either Comfort’s interpretation of Genesis 2:1 is correct or there are stars still being “created.”

CONCLUSION

Yet again, Comfort has shown not only how poor an exegete he is but also how poor a student of science he is. In his desire to promote a scientific understanding of the biblical text, he has managed to mangle both the Bible and science.


[1] Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 12-13.

[2] Then Genesis 2:4b (“In the day that the LORD God….”) would become 2:1. But alas, no one consulted me when creating these divisions.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all citations of biblical texts are from the NRSV.

[4] Or waykullû depending on how one chooses to pronounce the conjunction vav/waw.

[5] For an overview of stellar formation, see the discussion in Michael A. Seeds and Dana E. Backman, Foundations of Astronomy, thirteenth edition (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016), 224-246.