Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Hand Washing and Running Water

“When the one with a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, he shall count seven days for his cleansing: he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in fresh water, and he shall be clean” (Leviticus 15:13).


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

Ray Comfort continues to amaze and astound with his inept reading of biblical texts in his book Scientific Facts in the Bible.1 Quoting Leviticus 15:3 he writes,

The Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. Up until the 1800s doctors washed their hands in a basin of still water, leaving invisible germs and resulting in the death of multitudes. We now know that doctors must wash their hands under running water. The Encyclopedia Britannica documents that in 1845, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis in Vienna was horrified at the terrible death rate of women who gave birth in hospitals. As many as 30 percent died after giving birth. Semmelweis noted that doctors would examine the bodies of patients who had died, then go straight to the next ward and examine expectant mothers. This was their normal practice, because the presence of microscopic diseases was unknown. Semmelweis insisted that doctors wash their hands before examinations, and the death rate immediately dropped to 2 percent.2

Comfort’s recounting of Ignaz Semmelweis is more or less accurate and so there is no need to address it. Instead our focus will be on Comfort’s (mis)understanding of the regulations found in Leviticus 15:13. Comfort’s central claim is that “[t]he Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water.” Is Comfort correct? Is this evidence of advanced epidemiological knowledge in the Priestly text of Leviticus?

Determining the Context

Leviticus 15 is primarily about what ordinary people are to do when they have some ritual impurity. The text is divided into two basic categories: male genital discharges (15:2b-18) and female genital discharges (15:19-30). These two categories can be further subdivided.

  • Male genital discharges (15:2b-18)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:2b-15)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:16-18)
  • Female genital discharges (15:19-30)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:19-24)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:25-30)

Regardless of gender, for normal genital discharges there is no sacrifice required. Instead those experiencing such discharges are unclean for a specific period of time: “until the evening” for males and seven days for females. If a man and woman engage in sexual intercourse and the male achieves orgasm then both of them are unclean until the evening.

Things are quite different for abnormal genital discharges. If a woman experiences a “discharge of blood” that is not part of her normal menstrual cycle or if her menstruation lasts longer than it normally does she remains unclean and all she has touched are considered unclean as well. Once her discharge has ceased, she is to count seven days before she can be considered clean. Then on the eighth day she is to take either two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on her behalf before the LORD for her unclean discharge” (15:30).

Similarly, males who experiencing an abnormal genital discharge are considered unclean during the period of discharge. Once the discharge has ceased he is to count seven days, wash his clothes, and “bathe his body in fresh water” before he is considered clean. Then on the eighth day he is to take two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on his behalf before the LORD for his discharge” (15:15).

The role of mayim ḥyym 

As noted earlier, Comfort capitalizes on the phrase rendered in the NKJV as “running water” (mayim ḥyym). Literally, mayim ḥyym is “living waters” with ḥyym functioning adjectivally to mayimTo what is mayim ḥyym referring? The NRSV renders the phrase as “fresh water” which doesn’t truly capture what is being said here. The NKJV is much closer to the Hebrew in this regard. But considering that modern plumbing was not a feature available to ancient Israel, what exactly does running water entail?

The key is what we read in Leviticus 14:5: “The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water [mayim ḥyym] in an earthen vessel.” In context, the passage is describing what must be done to declare and make one with a skin disease ṭāhēr – “clean.” Normally such a slaughter would take place at the tent of meeting but because of the nature of skin disease everything happened outside the camp to avoid spreading the infection. As part of the ritual, a priest would take one of two birds that were brought for the ritual and slaughter it over a vessel containing mayim ḥyym. But how can it be considered running water if it is in a container? Well, it depends on how it got to be there. If it came from an underground source like a well (cf. Genesis 26:19) or from a river or stream then it was suitable for use.3 Such water could be stored in a vessel for later use in rituals as it was considered mayim ḥyymIn other words, if the water was taken from a source that was flowing then it was deemed appropriate for use. It did not matter that in a container like the earthen vessel it was no longer flowing.

Let’s return then to Leviticus 15:13. When the texts says that the one with the genital discharge is to “bathe his body in mayim ḥyym” it isn’t saying necessarily that he must wash in water that is currently flowing. Rather, the water must have come from a source that was, i.e. a river or an Artesian well. Water in an earthen vessel as we read in Leviticus 14:5 is still considered mayim ḥyym even though it is no longer flowing.

Another Failure

And so yet again Comfort has misunderstood the biblical text, this time by failing to look at surrounding context and how mayim ḥyym is used.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016).

2 Ibid., 6.

3 John E. Hartley, Leviticus, WBC vol. 4 (Zondervan, 1992), 195.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

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Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The Life of the Flesh

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).


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

We have already seen how spectacularly weak Comfort’s approach to the biblical texts tends to be. And not only does he routinely misunderstand the Bible, he also exhibits a less than rudimentary knowledge of science. In the twenty-first century, both are without excuse. Biblical scholarship and science are clicks away on the Internet and so for Comfort to make the errors that he does reveals either one who argues in bad faith or one who simply wishes to remain in his cognitive bubble. Comfort may somehow fall into both camps.

The next claim Comfort makes in Scientific Facts in the Bible is that Levitical law revealed that

blood is the source of life. Up until 200 years ago, sick people were “bled,” and many died because of the practice. We now know that blood is the source of life. If you lose your blood, you will lose your life.1

As support for this, Comfort quotes Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But does this text support Comfort’s claim? And is it really a sign that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge?

The Importance of Blood 

Human blood is actually a mixture of a variety of organic structures including plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells are what give blood its color as the hemoglobin on them binds with iron which then binds with oxygen which causes oxidation. And this brings us to the primary purpose of blood: oxygenation. When you breathe in oxygen, the blood pumping through your body absorbs it in the lungs and transports it to all the cells in your body via capillaries. The oxygen in turn is processed by the cells’ mitochondria which turn that oxygen into energy for those cells. If you are deprived of oxygen you die because your cells’ mitochondria are not provided with what they need to produce energy to keep those cells alive.2 

But ancient people had no idea what red blood cells were, let alone things like oxygen molecules or mitochondria. But they did know that if you slit the throat of a sacrificial animal or stabbed your enemy in the chest with your sword that the resultant loss of blood invariably meant the loss of life. Humanity quickly learned that blood was vital to the life of an organism. The reason for this was because it was how the gods had created humanity. The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish describes how Marduk, the one who defeated Tiamat, plans to create humanity telling the gods, “Let me put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.”3 Then at the prompting of the Igigi (i.e. the great gods), Marduk uses the blood of Qingu, a warrior of Tiamat, to create mankind.4

Blood Eating in Priestly Literature

The association between blood and life is strongly correlated by the biblical authors. In the original creation envisioned by the Priestly author (i.e. Genesis 1:1-2:4a), humanity and the animal kingdom were not permitted to consume meat (Genesis 1:29-30). But this changed as humanity became more corrupt and the earth became “filled with violence” (Genesis 7:12), causing God to destroy the world with a Flood save for Noah and his family. This reset on the creative order brings with it new rules and regulations that in some ways parallel those of the original order. One key difference between the original and the reset is that humanity was now allowed to consume meat (Genesis 9:3) but comes with a prohibition: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4).

Other P literature reiterates this prohibition. In Leviticus 3 we read of the “sacrifice of well-being” (Hebrew, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm) wherein an Israelite offers an unblemished animal at the tent of meeting. The Aaronid priests take the blood of the animal and dash it on the sides of the altar and then the animal is burned such that its fat and blood are wholly consumed. After going through the protocols for various kinds of animals, P says this, “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Why? Because P knows the prohibition given by God to Noah: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). The zebaḥ šĕlāmîm was not intended to be one of expiation but rather was meant to be a way to provide consumable meat to the Israelites.5

Further instructions for the zebaḥ šĕlāmîm are given in Leviticus 7. There we again read a prohibition against consuming blood. But this time is comes with a warning “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kind” (Leviticus 7:26-27). The penalty for consuming blood is to be “cut off” (Hebrew, krt), that is, die prematurely.6 

Blood Eating in the Holiness Code

Having observed certain differences in themes and vocabulary between Leviticus 17-26 and the rest of the book, many scholars have dubbed that section as deriving from a separate source and call it “the Holiness Code” (H).7 Within it are a variety of regulations that were intended to set Israel apart from its neighbors, to make them qōdeš (“holy”).8

“The LORD spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy [qĕdōšîm], for I the LORD your God am holy [qādôš]” (19:2; cf. 20:7, 20:26).

It is within the first chapter of H that we see the text at the center of our inquiry in this post. Let’s briefly consider the context of the words of Leviticus 17:11.

If we were to outline Leviticus 17 we would notice a pattern.9

  • Introduction (17:1-2)
    • Prohibition (17:3-7)
      • Animals eligible for sacrifice must be sacrificed at the tent of meeting (17:3-4) so that Israel might stop offering sacrifices to goat-demons (17:5-7).
      • Both Israelites and resident aliens must not sacrifice to anyone but Yahweh at the tent of meeting (17:8-9)
        • Central Prohibition (17:10-12)
          • The blood of all animals is not to be consumed (17:10) because the blood is functions as a ransom for human life in sacrifice (17:11-12).
      • Reiteration of Central Prohibition (17:13-14)
        • The blood of game is not to be consumed because blood is life (17:13-14).
    • Regulating governing consuming carcasses (17:15-16)
      • The regulation (17:15)
      • Consequences for disobedience (17:16)

As the outline suggests, 17:10-12

is…the axis upon which the chapter revolves. 

The merest glance at the content leads to the same conclusion: all five paragraphs [of Leviticus 17] deal with the legitimate and correct manner of disposing of the blood of those animals which may be eaten. The first two speak of sacrificeable animals – which, in the view of this chapter, must indeed be sacrificed – and the last two speak of animals which, though they may be eaten, may not be sacrificed. At the center, between the first two and the last two, stands the axiom upon which all four depend: that partaking of blood is prohibited. The first two lead to this axiom and provide its rationale; the last two derive from this axiom and implement it.10 

And the rationale for the central prohibition of 17:10-12 is this: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11).

So why does the Levitical law prohibit the consuming of blood? Because blood was not intended for consumption but for the making of atonement. To eat blood is to use it in an inordinate way.  That’s what lies behind the prohibition. It has absolutely nothing to do with any advanced scientific revelation that blood is the body’s oxygen transport system. It had to do with the observation that 1) the loss of blood leads to death and 2) the claim of the Priestly author that blood in animals is that which atones for sin. In other words, the claim is religious, having to do with the sacrificial cult and not scientific, having to do with the composition of blood and its biological function.

Sorry, Ray. You’re wrong again.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 For an excellent overview of blood, see Chris Cooper, Blood: A Very Short Introduction, e-book (OUP, 2016), 68-113.

3 The Epic of Creation, Tablet VI, in Stephanie Dalley (translator), Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (OUP, 1989), 260.

4 Ibid., 261.

5 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday, 1991), 222.

6 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, e-book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 42.

7 See Henry T. C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” in David N. Freedman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 3:256-257.

8 See H. P. Müller, “קדש qdš holy,” in Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (editors) and Mark E. Biddle (translator), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1103-1118.

9 Adapted from Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 1449.

10 Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood in Leviticus 17,” in Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan, Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 43.

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Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Invisible Material

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

In the last installment of “Invasion of the Bible Snatchers” we investigated Ray Comfort’s claim that the text of Job 26:7 affirmed that our planet was “freely floating” in space. As I pointed out in that post, Comfort’s bad science led to bad exegesis. Today we continue looking at Comfort’s claims that come from his book Scientific Facts in the Bible.

Invisible Material

Comfort quotes Hebrews 11:3 from the NKJV: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” He then writes,

The Bible claims that all creation is made of invisible material. Science then was ignorant of the subject. We now know that the entire creation is made of invisible elements called “atoms.”1 

Let’s begin with the scientific problems before we move on to the exegetical ones. The epistle to the Hebrews is anonymous and while some have attributed the letter to the apostle Paul, that connection remains dubious.2 It was likely written around 90 CE. But for the sake of argument, let us suppose that the epistle was written by Paul before his death in the 60s. Did Paul have advanced knowledge of the atomic world that he wrote down in the epistle to the Hebrews? Is Comfort right that “[s]cience then was ignorant of the subject”? The answer is “no” to both questions.

The Pre-Socratics and the Atom

The word “atom” is derived from the Greek word atomos, from the negative particle a,  and the word tomos, “cutting.” It appears one time in the New Testament where Paul writes that the resurrection will take place “in a moment [atomō], in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). The idea conveyed by atomos is of something indivisible, so fundamental that one cannot go beyond it. Paul compares atomos to “the twinkling of an eye,” the idea being that the process of resurrection will be instantaneous.

Centuries before Paul was a twinkle in his father’s eye, the idea of an atom was being toyed around with by pre-Socratic philosophers. In the fifth century BCE, the Athenian philosopher Anaxagoras posited a world in which the material cosmos consisted of tiny bits of matter that could not be seen with the naked eye. Similarly, Democritus (460-370 BCE) reasoned that if you take a material object and began dividing it into smaller and smaller pieces you would at some point reach a piece that was atomos – “uncuttable.” Democritus believed that the material world was made of these “atoms” that were uniform, homogenous, and invisible.3 This was the birth of what has become known as “atomism.” And while atomism did not win the day in Greek philosophical circles, it was a step in the right direction toward discerning the nature of the material universe.

What this shows us is that if we suppose that Paul was writing of the atomic world in Hebrews 11:3, he was doing so centuries after Greek philosophers had already done so. And since the tag line to Comfort’s book is “Amazing truths written thousands of years before man discovered them,” we can soundly reject that this particular biblical text contains advanced scientific knowledge. It is in fact a few centuries too late.

An Exegesis of Hebrews 11:3

That leaves us to examine the meaning of Hebrews 11:3 in its proper context. The eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews is perhaps its most famous. It begins with a rudimentary definition of faith (11:1) and includes what some refer to as the “Hall of Fame of Faith” (11:4-11:40). These heroes of ancient Israel are meant to stir up the recipients of the epistle to greater faith in the face of growing opposition and persecution (12:1-3). This is the immediate context in which we find the words in question.

The sequence of chapter eleven follows the general order of events in the Hebrew scriptures. For example, from 11:4 to 11:22 the focus is on the characters in the book of Genesis; from 11:23-29 the focus is on stories contained in the book of Exodus; and from 11:30 to the end there are characters from the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and more. This suggests strongly that what is described in 11:3 is part of this sequence of events: it is a summary of the creation story we find in Genesis chapter one.

One of the key elements of the first chapter of Genesis is that God speaks words and those words accomplish his purposes. “‘Let there be light,'” God says, “and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters,” he declares, and it comes to be (Genesis 1:6-7). The emphasis is on God speaking things into being. In Greek, when referring to someone’s speech, there is a particular Greek word that can be employed: rhēma. This is the word the author of Hebrews uses when summarizing Genesis chapter one: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word [rhēmati] of God.” That is, the world was prepared through what God had spoken.

This helps us understand the second half of Hebrews 11:3 when it says “that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” What is seen is the world that God created. What is not seen are the words God used to accomplish it. By this exegesis, it is not atoms to which the author is referring – as Comfort would have us think – but rather to God’s speech in Genesis chapter one. For the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, while we cannot see the words which God spoke, we can see their effect and it is by faith we understand that the world around us came from God’s words.

No Atoms Here

Comfort again reveals his sorely wanting exegetical skills. By reading the Bible through twenty-first century eyes and not in its own context he has forced upon it a reading that is not viable. Such eisegesis shows a lack of respect for both the text and its author. Comfort would do well to leave the task of biblical exegesis to those of us who know the Bible and handle it with respect.

No, Ray. There are no atoms in Hebrews 11:3.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 There are a total of thirteen letters that are directly attributed to the apostle Paul in the New Testament. Only seven of them (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon, and 1 Thessalonians) do scholars have a consensus that Paul was the actual author. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are likely forgeries and the authorship of the remaining epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians) are debated. The epistle to the Hebrews lacks the tell-tale signs of Pauline authorship.

3 Anne Rooney, The Story of Physics (Arcturus, 2011), 18-19.

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Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Hanging on Nothing

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

In the previous installment of “Invasion of the Bible Snatchers” you were introduced to Ray Comfort and his book Scientific Facts in the Bible. As we saw in that post, his first example of a “fact” was anything but a fact. Furthermore, his hermeneutic led to absurdities that were undoubtedly out of sight and therefore out of mind for the notorious evangelist. Today we move on to the next “fact” in his book and, as we will see, it reveals Comfort’s sorely lacking exegetical abilities.

“The Bible Proclaims…”

Comfort quotes Job 26:7 from the NKJV which reads, ” “He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.” He then writes the following:

The Bible proclaims that the earth freely floats in space. Science once thought that the earth sat on a large animal. We now know that the earth has a free float in space.1

Setting aside the strawman contained in the second sentence,it is simply not true “that the earth has a free float in space.”Therefore, if Comfort is claiming that the “Bible proclaims that the earth freely floats in space” then the Bible is in error. End of discussion.

But about what is the text of Job speaking? If it isn’t prescient astronomical knowledge then what is it? As the immediate context of the passage makes clear, it is speaking of the cosmic geography as perceived by someone living in the Ancient Near East.

A Creation Story…in Reverse

There is considerable evidence that suggests Job 26:7-13 is a creation narrative told in reverse.In many ancient cultures, prior to the creation of land or humanity there was an ancient sea that covered the world. Often the sea is personified with names like Tiamat in the Babylonian Epic of Creation or Yamm in the Ugaritic Baal cycle and it takes a hero to defeat the Sea and bring order to the watery chaos. We see hints of this view in the opening chapter of Genesis as Elohim takes the “formless void” (tohu wabohu) of the earth (i.e. “the land”) that is covered by waters and, by the power of his word, begins to fashion the world (Genesis 1). But in the Genesis story there is no explicit reference to Elohim defeating another deity to bring order to the chaos. Nevertheless, Elohim does need to subdue the chaos and he does by simply speaking.

But the Priestly creation story of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not the only creation story to be found in the Hebrew scriptures. For example, a creation story in Proverbs 8 (vss. 22-31) goes back farther than the one we find in Genesis, before there were even “deeps” (8:24; cf. Genesis 1:2). Yet in that narrative we find Yahweh taking control of the chaotic waters and setting boundaries for it and it isn’t until he sets those limits that the land can appear (Proverbs 8:27-29; cf. Job 38:8-11). The theme of the biblical texts is in line with the view of the Babylonian and Ugaritic tales: at first there was a water chaos that needed to be subdued.

As we return to Job 26:7-13 we can observe some of these elements as well. But as already stated, this is a creation story told in reverse and it begins with 26:12-13. In language borrowed directly from the Baal cycle,God is said to have “stilled the Sea [Hebrew, yam],” “struck down Rahab,” and “pierced the fleeing serpent.”6 Having defeated the personified Sea, God is then able to take control of the waters which he does by “describ[ing] a circle on the face of the waters” (26:10; cf. Proverbs 8:27b) and by “bind[ing] up the waters in his thick clouds” (26:8) by which he “covers the face of the throne” (26:9; NRSV, “the face of the full moon”). Then with the chaotic waters controlled, God “stretches out Zaphon over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing” (26:7).

So Job 26:7 is the culmination of the creation story whereby God has defeated the Sea (26:11-13) and taken control of the chaotic waters (26:8-10). But now we need to ask what the text means when it says that he “hangs the earth upon nothing.”

Hanging Upon Nothing

Let’s begin with the verb translated as “hangs.” In Job 26:7 “hangs” renders the participial form of talah, a verb that is frequently used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to execution by hanging or impaling (Genesis 40:19, Deuteronomy 21:22, etc.). That which is hung is the eretz, “earth” or “land” (cf. Genesis 1:9-10). That which the eretz is hung “upon” (Hebrew, ‘al) is beli-ma, “nothing.” There is some debate over what is meant by al-beli-ma. David Clines suggests that ‘al-belima means “without anything,”7 the idea being that the land appears to be entirely unsupported, i.e. it does not hang upon anything. John Walton sees be-lima as nonexistence but only in a functional, not material, sense.8 That is, the earth hangs upon that which has not yet been given purpose. And that which has not yet been given purpose in context are the waters.

Walton’s view certainly fits in with the context of Job 26:7-13. We also see in other biblical texts where the eretz is described as being “founded on the seas” (Psalm 24:1-2) and as being “spread out…on the waters” (Psalm 136:6). In Job 26:5 we read that “the rephaim [NRSV, “shades”] below tremble,” set in parallel with “the waters and their inhabitants.” This reflects the belief that the eretz was akin to an island surrounded by the cosmic sea that was above it (i.e. held back by the dome; cf. Genesis 1:6-8), all around it, and below it.

The Ancient View of the Universe
Israelite cosmic geography.9

So what is Job 26:7 describing to us? Well, it is describing how at the culmination of God’s defeat and structuring of the watery chaos he hangs the earth upon the waters as if it were an island. This fits in with the view of many in the ANE, including that of the Israelites.

Bad Science and Bad Exegesis

Comfort’s lack of scientific knowledge led him to undermine his thesis that the Bible was proclaiming “scientific facts” about the nature of the earth in space. The earth isn’t in free float and if Job 26:7 was teaching that then it too was in error. As we have seen, the text simply isn’t about the planet but is instead about the eretz. The text is imbedded in a reverse creation story that is in no way a scientific description of the origin of our world. It is instead a story told by ancient people to explain what they saw all around them. Yes, they were wrong. But Comfort, a man born in the modern era, is simply without any excuse.

His bad science led him to bad exegesis.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters, 2016), 5.

2 Comfort’s assertion that “[s]cience once thought that the earth sat on a large animal” is very misleading. It is true that some cultures believed that the world sat upon a giant tortoise (or turtle) or upon elephants or upon both (as in the The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett). But these weren’t scientific views; they were culturally based views. Consequently, not all cultures viewed the world as being on the back of an animal at all. Some believed in a World Tree while others, including many in the ANE, believed in a world surrounded by cosmic waters.

3 The earth doesn’t “free float” anywhere. It is gravitationally bound to the sun. In fact, nothing in the universe is in “free float” as all objects are gravitationally bound to one another. Gravity, physicist Carlo Rovelli observes, “is not diffused through space; the gravitational field is that space itself” (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics [Riverhead Books, 2016], 8). Objects with mass curve space and that is what gravity is. Objects follow the curve.

4 For a very thorough treatment, see Noga Ayali-Darshan, “The Question of the Order of Job 26,7-13 and the Cosmogonic Tradition of Zaphon,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 126.3 (2014), 402-417.

5 See Baal 2.4.25-30 in Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith, editors, Stories from Ancient Canaan, second edition (WJK, 2012).

6 The “fleeing serpent” is mentioned elsewhere by the name of Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1) and makes an appearance as “Litan, the Fleeing Serpent” and “Twisting Serpent” (Baal 5.1.1-2).

7 David J. A. Clines, Job 21-37, WBC vol. 18a (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 622.

8 John Walton, Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology (Eisenbrauns, 2011), 142.

9 From Barry Bandstra, “Chapter One: Genesis 1-11: The Primeval Story.” Accessed 11 October 2018.

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Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Innumerable Stars

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

Among fundamentalists there are few as notable and infamous as Ray Comfort. Known primarily for his Way of the Master evangelism program and organization, Comfort has been a vocal opponent of evolutionary science, Big Bang cosmology, and much more. He is also known for his various documentaries which include 180: Changing the Heart of a Nation (2011), Evolution vs. God: Shaking the Foundations of Faith (2013), and The Atheist Delusion (2016). Comfort is a prolific writer as well with such titles under his belt as Hell’s Best Kept Secret (1989), God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists (1993), and a short work entitled Scientific Facts in the Bible (2001). In 2016, Comfort released an updated version of Scientific Facts in the Bible which will be the focus of the next few posts in the “Invasion of the Bible Snatchers” series.

“No Ordinary Book” 

Comfort’s intention in Scientific Facts in the Bible is to point to “compelling evidence that the Bible is no ordinary book.”1 He starts with Jeremiah 33:22 – “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured…” (KJV). Comfort notes that this passage was written twenty-five hundred years ago and that it

claims that there are countless stars (described as the “host of heaven”). When this statement was recorded, no one knew how vast the stars were, as only about 1,100 were observable. Now we know that there are billions of stars, and that they cannot be numbered.2

In one sense, Comfort’s argument makes sense: the text says that there are innumerable stars and we know today that there are literally innumerable stars in the cosmos. But is that what this passage is discussing? Is this really a lesson in cosmology?

Light in the Darkness

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is, “What is the context?” After all, a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.”3 The chapter wherein the phrase rendered in the KJV as “the host of heaven” is part of a section that is dated to near the end of reign of King Zedekiah (32:1) and during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (32:2). Nebuchadrezzar attacked the capital of Judah for two years beginning in 589 BCE, finally taking the city three years later in 586. During that time, Jeremiah was stuck within the walls of the city and watched as slowly but surely its resources diminished and hope began to fail. The city, Yahweh declared, would fall “into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon” (32:28, NRSV). Invariably this meant death and destruction for the city’s inhabitants and, as was common in that era, the death of the king and the royal court including any descendants who might have a claim to the throne.

Yet even in the midst of such dark and desperate times there was hope.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness” (33:14-16).

What this reveals is that Yahweh will guarantee that not only will the city of Jerusalem be restored but that the house of David itself will once again reign on the throne.

For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time (33:17-18).

It is against this hopeful backdrop that we find the words quoted by Ray Comfort as evidence of prescience.

Innumerable Stars

As is clear from Comfort’s citation of Jeremiah 33:22, he does not provide the verse in full which reads,

Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.

The surrounding context helps us understand this promise, particularly in light of the two other variations of it found in 33:17-18 and 33:19-21. The point of all three is to reinforce the idea that not only will Israel be restored to her former glory (33:14-16), she will always have a Davidic heir on the throne and the Temple cult will always have priests “to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time” (33:18).

But why the appeal to “the host of heaven” or “the sands of the sea”? Anyone familiar with the Hebrew scriptures should recognize this type of language immediately and recall the promise made to Abram by Yahweh that his descendants would possess the land of Israel in perpetuity (Genesis 12:2) and that those descendants would be innumerable:

[Yahweh] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them….So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5; cf. 22:17, 26:4).

The human eye can only perceive objects in the night sky that have sufficient magnitude to be seen. That ends up being around nine-thousand.4 If we use the hermeneutic Comfort employed in interpreting Jeremiah 33:22 here then it seems that Yahweh is only promising Abram around nine-thousand descendants. That doesn’t seem like a very long-lasting lineage. But we need not use Comfort’s hermeneutic because it is ridiculous. Consider the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 1:10

“The LORD your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 1:10).

By some counts, there are around one billion trillion stars in the universe.5 Are we to imagine that 1 billion trillion Israelites departed Egypt for the Promised Land? Of course not. Nor are we to think that since there are only ten-thousand objects in the night sky visible to the naked eye that only ten-thousand Israelites departed Egypt for Canaan. That isn’t what is going on with these comparisons.

Missing the Point

No one in the Ancient Near East knew exactly how many stars were in the night sky; there were too many to count! And that is the point of the comparison. When Yahweh challenges Abram to count the stars and then promises that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, he is saying that just as there are a lot of stars up in the sky so also will Abram have a lot of descendants. The same principle is at work in Jeremiah 33:22: there are a lot of stars and a lot of grains of sand and so there will be plenty of Davidic descendants for the throne and plenty of priests to serve in the Temple. Not only has Comfort missed the point, his hermeneutic acts as a sword cutting against his views on the Bible’s advanced scientific knowledge as well.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 4.

2 Comfort, 4-5 (emphasis Comfort’s).

3 D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, second edition (Baker Academic, 1996), 115.

4 Bob King, “9,096 Stars in the Sky – Is that All?” Sky and Telescope, September 17, 2014. Accessed 6 September 2018.

5 UCSB Science Line, “About how many stars are in space?” University of California at Santa Barbara. Accessed 6 September 2018.


Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers

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


In 1956, the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released in theaters across the United States. Here is a synopsis of the movie from the IMBD website.

Dr. Miles Bennell returns to his small town practice to find several of his patients suffering the paranoid delusion that their friends or relatives are impostors. He is initially skeptical, especially when the alleged doppelgangers are able to answer detailed questions about their victim’s lives, but he is eventually persuaded that something odd has happened and determines to find out what is causing this phenomenon.

So they look like the original, talk like the original, and even have the memories of the original, but they are not the original.

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers

Something similar has been going on among fundamentalists and evangelicals with regard to biblical exegesis. A couple of examples should suffice to demonstrate it.

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In a book aptly titled The Bible Has the Answer, the late Henry Morris – a pioneer of the Young Earth Creationism movement and founder of the Institute for Creation Research – wrote, “The fact is…that true science has always confirmed the Bible!”1 Morris was so convinced by this that he published his own study Bible demonstrating its validity: The Defenders Study Bible. In his note on Job 26:7 – “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing” (KJV) – Morris writes,

Not only was the earth rotating, but it also began orbiting space, suspended from the sun by “nothing” except the mysterious force of gravity, acting at a distance. This verse was written at least 3500 years before Isaac Newton identified and described this force.2

We don’t have time to dissect Morris’ take on Job 26:7 but needless to say it is problematic at best and it is a passage that we will discuss in greater detail in a later post in this series. For now, let’s move on to another example.

In his apologetics handbook, the late Robert Boyd discusses a variety of scientific insights found in the biblical texts. For example, regarding Leviticus 13:45 – “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean'” (NRSV) – Boyd wrote,

Lip covering is mentioned in Leviticus 13:45. Surgeons today would not dare operate without such a mask. Many times before entering a patient’s room in a hospital, visitors must don a gown and a mask to keep from spreading germs. Moses gave such precautionary advice about 3,500 years ago, long before Pasteur discovered germs.3

Again, we do not have time to dive into the text to dissect it and Boyd’s take on it. What these two examples show is that Christians like Boyd and Morris were willing to take great liberties with biblical texts that invariably ignore the context in which those texts were composed and replaces them with an alien interpretation. And this could be multiplied dozens of times over. So when you read the biblical text through their interpretive framework, it looks like the original text and may even sound like the original text but it is not the original text.

This Series

Because of these Bible Snatchers and their eisegetical tendencies, as well as the proliferation in mainstream American Christianity, this series has no end-date. Instead, we will look at such eisegesis both old and new from now deceased Christians like Henry Morris to the very much alive Hugh Ross. My goal is to show how their takes on certain biblical texts do not acknowledge the literary and cultural context from which they arose as well as to offer some semblance of a sound interpretation that does acknowledge those important details.

If any of my readers have particular takes that they would like me to examine and take on, please forward the relevant information to my email: amateurexegete@gmail.com. I also welcome debate that can be included in the comments section or sent to my email address. I am the Amateur Exegete and so I know full well that I can be (and have been) wrong in my approaches to texts.

NOTES

1 Henry M. Morris, The Bible Has The Answer, original edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971), 62.

2 Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible: Defending the Faith from a Literal Creationist Viewpoint (Grand Rapids, MI: World Publishing, 1995), 584.

3 Robert T. Boyd, Boyd’s Handbook of Practical Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997), 74.