17 February 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... how to understand the OT (full post)

by Dan Phillips
"You know where you really go wrong? You just read the Torah 'way too literally."
A reader wrote me saying he'd been troubled to see a Buddhist lecturer being hosted at a Methodist church. He wrote the pastor, expressing his concern and citing John 14:6. In his response, the Methodist pastor said something like "I don't take the Bible as literally as you."

One hears this quite a bit. We are cautioned against taking Genesis too literally, against taking the history of Israel too literally. Usually in these cases, "literally" is a code-word meaning "to be true." So the problem is that we take Genesis 1—3 to be true, to actually relate events that happened in space and time exactly as recorded.

Of course our grand concern should not be to take Scripture literally or non-literally. Insofar as we claim to be Christians, our goal must be to take Scripture as Christ took it. Otherwise, we might as well claim to be "SpongeBobians" as "Christians."

Jesus lodged a great many charges against the religious leaders of His day. He complained that their righteousness fell short of that of the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20), that they didn't practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3), that they made proselytes who were worse than they (Matthew 23:15), and a host of other accusations.

But did Jesus ever fault them for being too literal?

I'd say the opposite is the case. If anything, Jesus faulted them for not attending closely enough to the details Scripture.

For instance, He faulted them for failing to learn from David's history (Matthew 12:2-4) and from the practice of the priests (v. 5). He did not suggest that either was a myth or a cultic legend with a general meaning that bypassed the text. It was from the text that He derived the meaning.

Again and again Jesus clashed with the Pharisees' traditionalism. But His problem with this plague was not that it harped too closely on the letter of the Torah, but that it completely ignored it at will, as He illustrated at length in Matthew 15:1-9. Jesus in no way suggested that the Pharisees needed to loosen their grip on Scripture; rather, they needed to tighten it (vv. 3-4, 6, 9).

Jesus accuses the Sadducees of not having a sufficient grasp of Scripture: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). The He presses a seemingly minor point of syntax (v. 32) to demonstrate the resurrection (v. 31).

Then He rounds on the Pharisees, pressing a literal reading of the title of Psalm 110 to make a major point which would collapse otherwise (22:41-45). Jesus took "of David" to mean "of David," and not "David-like" or "from the Davidic school."

Or let's go right to the first bail-out point for Christianoids who want the world to think well of them: Genesis 1—3. Is there any hint that Jesus saw these chapters as metaphorical, poetic, mythological? Indeed no; the genre and canonical location clearly identify them as historical prose, and Jesus accepted this. Seamlessly combining Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, Jesus said
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female [ Genesis 1:27], and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-5)
As in everything, Jesus puts it down to a lack of faith. Jesus Himself was in no doubt that the entire OT was the very Word of God. What the Torah said, God said. Therefore, the problem of the Pharisees was not that they clung too tightly to Moses, but too loosely. Hear Him:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. ...Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:39-40, 45-47)
Anyone backing away from the full truthfulness and authority of every word of the OT should have the honesty not to appeal to Jesus, for Jesus showed no such spirit. The only Jesus who ever really lived fully affirmed the OT as God's word. If we are going to propound some other view, we should say up-front that we reject Jesus' cosmology and feel free to disagree with Him where His thinking varies from ours. But then it seems to me that we need to take the next step and disassociate ourselves from any thought that we are believers in, or students and followers of, Jesus.

One may with integrity say he believes Jesus and owns Him as Lord, or he may fret at length about the horrid evils of taking the OT too literally.

He may not do both. Not with integrity.

Dan Phillips's signature


naturgesetz said...

You implicitly equivalate "God's word" and "literally true," which makes your argument a petitio principii. Neat rhetorical trick. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Man! Dan! If Blogdom is a band, you're fully on lead guitar with that post! I've been throwing down on the creation question over at my blog, and your comments about Genesis are wonderfully insightful.

Good gravy!

Anonymous said...

Usually in these cases, "literally" is a code-word meaning "to be true."

As accurate a translation as I've seen!

Tom Chantry said...

Indeed no; the genre and canonical location clearly identify them as historical prose, and Jesus accepted this.

Some people may wish to quibble all day about the meaning of the word "literal," but the sentence above is the crux of the argument, and it is pure gold.

Yes, there are portions of the Scripture which are poetic and which evoke truth through pathos. And yes, the most historic passages may utilize obvious metaphor (are their windows in heaven?) but Genesis must be accepted as what 1 it presents itself to be, and 2 Christ accepted it as.

DJP said...

Thanks very much, Tom.

As you are, I of course am aware that there's a cottage industry debating the meaning of "literal." But I trust that most readers understand the difference between a blog post and a scholarly paper or a book, and I felt (as you also seem to see) that in the course of the entire post my meaning was made clear. I tend to write for anyone who'll give a fair read; never found a way to reach anyone who won't.

Robert said...

I heard N.T. Wright babble for about 5 minutes on a video clip about what does literal mean...I was about ready to scream at the TV. I think it was a clip where he was speaking on BioLogos (go figure). As you stated, Jesus confirmed that the OT was literal and that the reason people went off the tracks is because they took it to mean something it didn't. And then they even added unto it...same as different groups of people have always done and will always do. When we lose a reverence for the Word of God and start trying to make it match with what is in our fallen, finite minds we go astray. I liken it to manipulating Romans 12:2 from this:

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

into something like this:

"And do not be conformed to the Word, but transform the meaning of the Word to what is in your mind, so that you may prove what your will is is the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect to you."

When we do the former, we humble ourselves, exalt the Word, and look for ourselves to be transformed by the power of God's Word. When we do the latter, we just twist God's Word to justify our own thoughts/actions/desires. It reminds me a bit of what Dan has talked about on his blog with the religious group he was in before...looking for a "deeper meaning" of the plain text of the Bible so that it can work better with what we think.

Doug Hibbard said...

One wondering I've had, and the logic is weak here, but what harm does it do my Christian walk to believe that the Old Testament is literal?

Why do some want to "save" me from thinking that I serve the God who created by His Word? Will it help me do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God if I finally figure out that 6 days=4.5 billion years?

It's just fascinating the folks that will spend so much effort on persuading people of the 'non-literal-ness' and then fuss at believers in literal understanding as worrying about unimportant things. If it's unimportant, why are you bothering?

Anyway, just my thoughts as I read this and agreed with it.

Especially glad we're not "SpongeBobians" as I hate wearing those dang square pants.


Tom Chantry said...

Fair enough - and you're exactly right. I just thought to get my comment in before someone showed up to say, "So Solomon's girlfriend literally had a tower growing out of the middle of her face?" or some such entirely off-point nonsense.

Doug Hibbard said...

Now, Pastor Tom, don't go picking on the poor girl's nose. Or her fuzzy teeth, since she didn't have a toothbrush to get them clean! (Teeth like a flock of sheep: fuzzy and dirty!)


DJP said...

< puts one finger on nose, points other at Robert >

DJP said...

Oh Tom, to be clear, I wasn't correcting you. I felt you made a very good point, and was just tag-teaming off of it.

Anonymous said...

"A reader wrote me saying he'd been troubled to see a Buddhist lecturer being hosted at a Methodist church. He wrote the pastor, expressing his concern and citing John 14:6. In his response, the Methodist pastor said something like "I don't take the Bible as literally as you.""

"Pastors" like that should be fired. They don't know -- or don't care -- that John 14:6 wasn't a metaphor and that even if it was there are 100+ more passages in the New Testament declaring that Jesus is the only way to salvation. That quantity isn't what makes it true -- his resurrection accomplishes that -- but it does mean that no one should claim to follow Christ if they don't hold that view.

DJP said...

Well Doug I think the thing from that side is that, if we're so neanderthalically literal as to — oh, I don't know; just to pick something at random — affirm Genesis' narration of 6-day fiat creation at a relatively recent point in time — the world will end up not liking us and making fun of us.

Of course, we've all seen how the attempts to kiss up to the world have worked out. Until one is in complete lockstep conformity (jettisoning every last bit of that "God"-stuff), it won't rate you higher than half-moron.

It's almost enough to make one just be a disciple of Jesus' and be done with it.

Tom said...

Good work, Sensei. Now would you care to dive into how this relates to finding Christ in every passage of the OT?


Doug Hibbard said...


Exactly. What's wrong with being satisfied with being His disciple and let the whole world get over itself? (Or not, really, but you understand.)

I've grown really tired of late that Bible-believing Christians are having to spend this effort to defend against internal falling apart. I know it's necessary to do so, but it's still tiring. Let's take God's Word for His Word and get back to work.

Honestly, can you imagine being at work and debating whether that order from the boss is meant to be taken literally? Oh, I know it says "Be at work at 9, but he didn't specify time zone."

The problem is the Word of God being treated like your order at McDonald's gets treated: barely listened to, repeated wrongly, and obeyed incorrectly. Fast food religion at its finest.

Michael Lawmaster said...

Excellent Dan!

Tom Chantry said...


We're cool.


Who's trying?

DJP said...

Good work, Sensei. Now would you care to dive into how this relates to finding Christ in every passage of the OT?



Wait... you mean now?

Tom Chantry said...

To clarify:

I cannot see how Christ's beginning with Moses and the Prophets to interpret from all the Scriptures the things pertaining to Himself suggests for a minute that Christ can be found in "every passage" of the Old Testament. He is in all the Scriptures, and none of them make sense without Him, but are we honestly supposed to embark on a search to find Him lurking under every verse?

Eric said...


That Tony Jones stuff you linked to is awful. Meaningless and haughty musings, and nothing more. I fully concur that all who would desire to get creative with Biblical Christianity and fashion it into a Christianity of their own making (with a God and Jesus of their own making) ought to just be honest enough to say that they are trying to form a new religion and call it something else. Then they can compete with the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Scientologists and they can raise themselves up to the level of a Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, or L. Ron Hubbard.

Chris Russell said...

Just to clarify, because someone is bound to come trampling through with this one. Taking the word of God literally does not mean that we are bound by the OT law. I can cut the hair on the side of my head, i can eat bacon, and I don't have to sit outside the camp for 7 days if I touch something that is dead. Taking it literally means that you have to take into account paul when he says "But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." Romans 7:6. When we take the whole Bible literally we see that we are no longer held to the OT law. Praise God because I love bacon. (And i would've broken all of those laws and probably been cut off by now)

Spatulaguy said...

Praise God because I love bacon.

I fully believe that God made the prohibition for Israel to not eat bacon because they were already prone to worship other gods and being able to eat bacon would have exposed this way too quickly. The golden calf would have been a golden pork belly.

Sorry for the off-topic distraction, but bacon can have that effect on me.


Verification word: trapp.
Admiral Ackbar performing the Sound of Music: "It's a Von Trapp!"

Now back to something more serious. Great post by the way.

naturgesetz said...

Dan, Tom, and I seem to agree that not every word of the OT is literally true in the strict sense of the term "literally." But it is true even when it is not literally true. What I would suggest is that the first chapters of Genesis are true without being literally true, and Jesus did not have to regard them as literally true to draw the meaning which he did concerning the indissolubility of marriage. As Pope John Paul II points out in his Theology of the Body, those verses of Genesis teach us not only the indissolubility of marriage, but also the sacredness of marital intercourse as an image of God's love as well as the wrongfulness of interfering with the natural fecundity which God gave it (and implicitly the wrongfulness of homosexual activity).

One doesn't need to take these passages literally to accept them as truly the word of God in human language and to accept their teaching as authoritative. Liberals think that if Genesis isn't literally true, then it's message is not authoritative. But we don't have to accept their illogic on that point.

BTW: I agree that John 14:6 is literally true. Lots of people were unhappy when the Catholic Church said as much about 10 years ago in Dominus Jesus.

Tom Chantry said...


As I suspect you know, Dan and I are uninterested in Mr. Wojtyła's ideas since he - like his successor - was a continuationist of the grossest sort.

As for your take on Genesis 1-3, I stand with Dan's statement: ...the genre and canonical location clearly identify them as historical prose... I've read the arguments of men I trust far more than Wojtyla and found them utterly lacking at this point, and I do not believe Dan's assertion has ever been effectively addressed, let alone countered.

As for your take on the Lord Jesus' take on Genesis 1-3, it is nothing short of pure liberalism. Jesus could accept Genesis 1-3 as myth, yet also as God's word to us. I believe Jesus was rather more honest than that.

DJP said...

Citing a pope in the context of a Christian discussion concerning Scripture is as germane as citing an imam, the Watchtower, or a Mormon "apostle."

Which is to say, not.

Steve said...

The key thought seems to be "...our goal must be to take Scripture as Christ took it." Literally I'd certainly agree! And it's really helpful when scripture reveals it for us. Like, for example, "You are that head of gold." But when not revealed we can rest in Deut. 29:29. So, when seventy sevens turns into weeks of years. Well, I get confused.

donsands said...

"Otherwise, we might as well claim to be "SpongeBobians" as "Christians.""

I would be more a "Patrickian". Not that i watch Squarepants that much, just when the grandsons are over, and even then rarely.

I remember hearing a teacher once say, "We have watch the Modernization of the Bible. For instance the Rainbow isn't lietrally a sign." (Paraphrased)

We do have to watch and stand against the flow in our day.

Thanks for the post.

Have a good evening in our risen Savior's presence.

mikeb said...

Steve, just to be clear, the "revealed things" Moses is talking about in Deut. 29:29 is all of Scripture. Scripture is the revelation from God.

Steve said...

Thanks Mikeb, all scripture indeed.

Halcyon said...


Good stuff, man!

But that Tony Jones guy...wow. Isn't there some "law" (I think it's an internet law) about when a belief system is so wacko that you can never tell when its presentation is legit or a parody? I can't remember the law's name, but Mr. Jones's post on "Cosmology" reminds me of it.

IMHO, I've looked into and seen plenty examples of Mr. Jones's brand of "open-minded" skepticism and cynicism, but I rejected it (amongst other reasons) because it's too timid and dull. Sitting around in a languid skepticism, either too lazy or too afraid to hold to something greater than yourself, is the death of all excitement. But to believe in something, truly and wholeheartedly, that is the exciting thing. To be dogmatic is to be adventurous. To be skeptical is to be not only bored but also a bore.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

So, if one doesn't believe the Bible, starting at Genesis 1, where does one start believing it? And then, does one throw out all the books with references to the parts one doesn't believe?

What about Noah and the flood? Jonah and the great fish? That all goes, too, I suppose? And what about Lazarus? Or, in fact, Jesus' resurrection?

Once one starts down that path, where does it end?

Romans 1:25, maybe?

Tom Chantry said...


Exactly right, and the crux of all is, of course, the Resurrection of the Lord. There is not a single reason to reject Genesis 1-3 that does not apply - and doubly so, because the objections would be based on real science - to I Corinthians 15. And when we follow that reasoning, we lose the very gospel.

Eric said...

HG & Tom,

I have posed the question regarding the resurrection a number of times and have seen others pose that question time and time again. I have yet to see any Christian supporter of evolution ever attempt to answer. None. Ever.

Scot said...

I admit I didn't see the twist coming at the end, though it's just a twist to me. I've never made the connection between believing the Torah as amoral issue. Either Jesus is a liar for telling others to take the OT as it stood, or we are liars for slandering his testimony. I feel rather thick for missing that one. :(

I tend to write for anyone who'll give a fair read; never found a way to reach anyone who won't.

I believe Phil already addressed how to reach those folks.

Spatulaguy said...

If Jesus didn't take Gen 1-3 as literally, actually-happened-that-way true, he didn't inform Paul when Paul wrote Romans 5. Particularly the stuff about sin coming into the world through one man. If Adam wasn't one actual man but a mythological type of man then sin only entered the world mythologically. Which means we would only need a mythological savior.


Jugulum said...


I'm a creationist, but I'll answer that question.

Arguments about Genesis are often forensics arguments--ostensible evidence about what happened in the past. Interpreting data to mean "X happened at time Y". (Age of the earth or universe falls in that category.)

I don't know of any "scientific" arguments of that kind against the resurrection. The only "scientific" argument against the resurrection is "miracles are impossible", which isn't a forensic argument. That's a claim that natural law can't be violated, not an interpretation of data to tell us something specific about history. (Wait, I did think of an example of a forensic argument against the resurrection--the Talpiot tomb silliness from 2007, which claimed "the tomb wasn't empty".)

Note: Y'all are right about the problem with arbitrarily overturning the authority of select parts of Scripture, of course. I'm just pointing out the nature of the difference of the arguments against Genesis and against the resurrection.

Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

For writing this Renegade:

God literally does not mean that we are bound by the OT law… i can eat bacon…

I recommend this

Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

For writing this naturgesetz:

As Pope John Paul II points out…

I nominate you for this months “Square peg in Round hole” award

best laugh I’ve had all day.

Eric said...


I see the distinction you are attempting to make, but I would call it a distinction without a difference. The effect of either scientific conclusion is to say "what the Bible says happened is impossible", and that is exactly what the evolutionists argue. It is exactly what drives Christian evolutionists to discard Biblical authority in an attempt to curry favor with the world. In the end it makes no difference if we parse words and argue that one scientific conclusion says something "didn't" happen and the other scientific conclusion says something "couldn't" happen. The argument of the Christian evolutionist always boils down to "scientific fact [as they interpret it] must shape our understanding of Scripture". And that is every bit as applicable when considering the resurrection as when considering creation. A consistent evolutionist must deny the resurrection and in fact all miraculous events recorded in the Bible because they have no naturalistic explanation.

At least I can now say that I have seen someone attempt to answer the question - I appreciate your response.

naturgesetz said...

HG — It's not a question of whether one believes the Bible or not. It's a question of determining, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what God is telling us.

RC — It will not do to say that a proposition is false simply by reason of the person who stated it. (In fact, the reason I put that in was simply to remind the readers that popes can say things that are doctrinally true.)

Eric said...

"the reason I put that in was simply to remind the readers that popes can say things that are doctrinally true"

To what end? Was that ever in doubt? Has anyone in the history of the world ever said that popes are incapable of saying anything that is doctrinally true? An athiest can say things that are doctrinally true as well, but that does not demonstrate much of anything.

Tom Chantry said...

And yet, naturgesetz, like all those who have usurped that title, Mr. Wojtyła managed to insert that which was doctrinally untrue into his statement (if you redacted properly). It is precisely the mixture of truth and error which makes the head of your cult so much more dangerous than the heads of all the other cults.

Tom Chantry said...


For my part, I can see the distinction, and it is worth noting. I think you may save us from a rhetorical misstep. However, I would still assert that anyone who rejects the creation account on facetious forensic grounds has equal or stronger reason to reject the resurrection on the ground of a truly scientific assertion: dead people don't rise.

naturgesetz said...

"An athiest can say things that are doctrinally true … ."


What doctrinal truth might an atheist state?

He might agree to facts of history such as that certain individuals mentioned in the Bible, including, but not limited to, the kings of Israel, Mary, and Jesus, actually lived. But when it comes to what our faith tells us as Christians, such as the Resurrection, I very much doubt that he'd agree to anything that is specifically Christian.

Tom Chantry said...

What doctrinal truth might an atheist state?

Among other things he might state that the Pope doesn't speak for God.

Anonymous said...


For the record, I've read an atheist saying that it's foolish to believe that man is basically good.

There's doctrine for you.

But if one pagan can be right sometimes, why can't another...?

Anonymous said...

Tom Chantry,

Well played.

DJP said...

Chantry, if there were a gold star for what you just did, I'd pin it on your chest.

Eric said...

Tom Chantry,

That's why I called it a distinction without a difference. There is no doubt a distinction, but so what - the underlying premise and the effect are still the same.

Tom Chantry said...


But remember what Jug said up front - he is a creationist, which means (I think) that he rejects the forensics arguments made against the historicity of the Genesis account. I understood him to be saying, "Here is how your argument might be answered," and that is helpful. There is in fact a distinction, and it would be helpful to frame the debate in such a way as to acknowledge that distinction.

Yet you could still say that anyone who finds the so called forensic evidence against Genesis convincing is going to have a hard time defending the doctrine of the Resurrection - or any other miracle. Granted, there is no extant forensic evidence one way or the other, but the laws of biology are fairly clear.

It's a fairly minor point, but I for one would like to have that distinction down in my mind if I were discussing this with a professed believer who was convinced of the mythic character of Genesis because of scientific evidence. I think at the end of the day, though, that you, Jug, and I are all pretty much on the same page; it's just a question of how sharply we want to phrase our arguments.

Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

Sorry naturgesetz, but I’ll stand by my comment. IMO, your reasoning in defending the Pope makes about as much sense as defending the wearing of a broken watch.

Doug Hibbard said...

Taken from discussion:

If I accept that Scripture is literally true then all of that stuff about the Resurrection can be believed and I get to eat bacon.

Otherwise, I have neither heaven nor tasty pork products.

I'll be a literalist until the day the cholesterol helps me depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Then I'll see it was literal anyway.


Closer to topic: The statement that it's not about believing the Bible but determining what God is saying to us doesn't seem to work. How does God speak to us? Through the Bible (His Word). True, I hold that the Holy Spirit illuminates that Word for our understanding, but if you come to the text looking for loopholes rather than looking at what it actually says it seems the point will be missed.

Or am I wrong on that?

DJP said...

Yep, Doug, it was an evasion at best. Once it is determined objectively what the Bible says, rejection of those truths (e.g. inerrancy of Scripture, fiat creation, justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, homosexuality is always and only immoral, etc.) is unbelief.

Jugulum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

That last comment has me expecting an antagonist...call me a cynic.

And this post makes me wonder if this could wind up being a lead-in to an open letter to another of the BioLogos crew...or maybe one of the New Perspective on Paul guys (although that is NT). Seeing as Dan and Frank seem to complement each other's thoughts with their posts on here and all...

Robert said...

OK, clarification...I meant the last post that was by Doug

Jugulum said...

Eric & Tom,

It's the distinction between being an actual scientific argument, and simply having a materialistic worldview that rejects miracles.

Saying "a 3-days dead person can't rise again" is a valid statement of natural law--i.e. the way God made the universe to work. (Otherwise we wouldn't call the Resurrection a miracle!) But that's not an argument against the Resurrection unless you add in "there's no God, or if He exists, He doesn't do miracles or interfere with His creation." That's not a scientific argument.

Why it matters: An actual scientific argument--meaning an analysis of physical data, as opposed to a dismissal of theism--can validly prompt a faithful, humble, submitted-to-God's-Word, Berean-style Christian to say, "Let's double-check that exegesis and make sure." (I know a hard-and-fast geocentrist, who really needs to be more careful in his interpretation of Scripture. And I know people who are sadly willing to twist Genesis into knots--but the initial "Let's double-check" isn't the problem there.)

Eric said...

Tom Chantry,

I concur with your last statement. I realized all along what Jug's perspective was and thanked him for his contribution. I wasn't arguing against Jug as much as I was interacting with the line of reasoning that he posited (albeit on someone else's behalf).

Tom Chantry said...

I'm still with you on the distinction, and I agree it is worth observing, but I am not 100% comfortable with your last statement. First this: "An actual scientific argument--meaning an analysis of physical data" - there is more to "science" than analysis. Also necessary are the production of predictive hypotheses and their testing. I can agree that the type of argument made against Genesis is forensic, but I still reject any notion that such an argument may be scientific. Origins arguments are of necessity untestable, and thus non-scientific.

I would also suggest that the re-imagining of Genesis 1-3 that goes on in many circles is not well described as "checking the exegesis to make sure." Something else entirely is going on.

Eric said...


But it is a scientific statement of established scientific fact that a biologically dead human cannot rise to life after 3 (or however many days). That a resurrection *cannot* occur is an "actual scientific argument--meaning an analysis of physical data". The physical data tells us it cannot (note, not "did not").

The reason that the distinction really makes no difference is because the Christian evolutionist is telling us that we must put aside our silly faith and believe what the consensus of scientists has established as fact or risk embarrassment (Waltke?). This argument is equally applicable to creation and the resurrection.

Robert said...

I agree with Tom about the scientific argument. There is a lot that should go into proving/giving evidence of something before calling it a scientific argument. There is a reason we have to deal with the "theory" of evolution despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Eric said...

I believe by definition you can make a scientific theory and thus a scientific argument about origins and the (long) history of physical things, but by definition you cannot test and therefore cannot scientifically prove those theories or arguments.

Tom Chantry said...


A in science, unlike in common discourse, "theory" refers to a hypothesis which has been so well supported by testing that it may serve as a working basis of scientific assumption. So no, you cannot make a scientific theory of origins. In fact, "hypothesis" refers to a testable (both falsifiable and verifiable) proposed solution to a question, so in fact it is impossible to formulate a scientific hypothesis of origins.

Jugulum said...


The core of experimentation is making a prediction on the basis of your hypothesis, and observing to see if your prediction is right. The more predictions you can make and check, the more confident you can be in your hypothesis. Especially when you can make very precise predictions, and especially when the range of possibilities was high. (What are the odds that your prediction would have hit the bullseye, if your hypothesis was wrong? Especially if the dartboard was huge.)

Prediction-to-test-a-hypothesis doesn't mean "prediction of what will happen in the future". It means "prediction of an observation you haven't made yet".

That's why astronomy really is a science, even though we can't set up whatever experiment we want. It's a weaker science, and our conclusions are always less certain. We can't do everything we want to, to control the situation to filter out "noise" and narrow in on certain factors. But we are able to make quantifiable predictions about what we'll observe--like predictions about spectral analysis of supernovae, or about distribution of in the sky features.

Einstein couldn't set up the eclipse in 1919 that allowed us to take observations to test the gravitational lensing predictions of general relativity, but it was still a test of the predictions. It's passive experimentation.

Similarly, we're limited in what we can observe to test hypotheses about the interior of the sun. But indirect observation (of its effect on the surface) is possible--and that might be enough to test some predictions. We're in better shape with the interior of the earth, because earthquakes are common enough to allow lots of observations of how waves pass through. (And more recently, we can actually do active experiments--like setting off a bomb to generate seismic waves.)

We can't observe the interior of the earth directly, but we can observe the effects that it has on things we can observe more directly.

The past is in the same category. We can't set up arbitrary, active, tightly-controlled experiments concerning anything in the past, but we can make predictions about the outcome of observations we haven't made yet. (And we do that in forensics.) The conclusions are weaker than they'd be if we could test more predictions, but we can test some.

It's weaker scientific evidence, not non-scientific evidence.

Eric said...

Yea, Tom, I think I spoke (typed) hastily with my last comment, and did not think it out very well.

I guess in the end I really only wanted to interact with a potential argument as to why a Christian should not deny the resurrection on the same grounds that we are told to deny the Genesis creation account, and I appreciate the fact that Jugulum provided me with that opportunity in this forum. As with Tom, I acknowledge the distinction that Jugulum raised, but I contend strongly that in the context of what the Christian evolutionist is arguing, it is in effect a distinction with no concrete or practical difference.

Tom Chantry said...


I understand the distinction you are making re. forensics. However, I still believe that origins are outside the realm of science altogether.

Forensics are able to predict certain not-yet-made observations in cases similar to other observed cases. For instance, a forensic investigator wishes to determine whether a person died of cyanide poisoning. He cannot re-animate that individual and kill him with cyanide to see what it looks like, but he can, on the basis of observed physical phenomena similar to those found in previously proven victims of cyanide poisoning, hypothesize that cyanide traces will be found in the cells. Upon finding those traces, he can render a scientifically valid theory of that victim's cause of death.

The emergence of life from non-life, or of a life-sustaining planet from - anything, really - has never been observed. The basis of factual knowledge on which hypotheses might be rendered is simply non-existent. Forensic science, then, might give us certain insight into the past. Observation of the development of rock formations may give us the basis for forensic conclusion on much older rock formations (although such conclusions have been regularly refuted by the emergence of new observations). The past, however, is not the same thing as the origin. Saying where something started which has never been observed to start is, I maintain, beyond the reach of even forensic science.

Jugulum said...

By the way, I think it's sometimes possible to test a hypothesis using a prediction of an observation you already made. Not just a prediction of the results of a future observation. Sort of.

The only example I know of: Quantum mechanics predicts the structure of the periodic chart. (Technically, the periodic chart came first, so it's not a prediction. Maybe I should say it describes or explains the periodic chart. But I'll explain below why I think "predicts" is meaningful.)

One of my favorite things in quantum mechanics is the calculations of the characteristics of a hydrogen atom. Specifically, the electron orbitals. (The single-proton, single-electron system is simple enough that we can work the math.) You apply the Schrödinger equation to the system, and find all the possible solutions. And fantastically, that gives you the number of electrons that can fit in each energy level--all the spins and shells that you learn about in high school chemistry. And those are where the structure of the periodic chart come from.

I count that as a "prediction" because as far as I know, it was unlooked-for, in the developing quantum mechanics. We didn't come up with quantum theory to explain the periodic chart. It just happened that a perfect description fell out of the Schrödinger equation when we applied it to the hydrogen atom.

It's not a prediction when you come up with a hypothesis to fit the data--but when it turns out your hypothesis would have predicted data that wasn't even in view, that's the same kind of impressive success as a normal prediction.

Doug Hibbard said...


It might, and it might get overlooked. I'm trying to get my thinking skills back up to speed to comment around here and not get eaten alive, so there's some serious incompleteness I'm sure.

Word Verification: dogend, the conclusion to the movie "Doggone"

Mike Riccardi said...

Reading an article by Geisler called, "Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars" (JETS 42/1 [March 1999] 3-19). This was in it, and it just freaked me out. Then I realized it lined up perfectly with this post:

"One of our society's noted members, the late Professor J. Barton Payne, told of a conversation he had with a negative Bible critic who denies the creation of Adam and even, the Noahic Flood, Jonah in the Great Fish, one Isaiah, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and other orthodox beliefs. When Professor Payne pointed out that Jesus had personally affirmed all of these in the Gospels, his liberal friend shockingly replied: 'Well, I know more about the Bible than Jesus did'!"

There, as they say, y'go.

Mike Riccardi said...

Of course, by "Adam and even" I meant "Adam and Eve." Somebody must have redacted my original comment before it was published.

DJP said...




James S said...

Great post, Dan. I admire your standing up for truth. I agree whole-heartedly with all you have said.

I also am glad to see many others standing true and holding fast.

Tom Chantry has been right on the money with each of his comments too. Tom is awesome. I appreciate his taking time for us here.

To me, those who don't believe the literal account are fools. I say that unashamedly. Proverbs says that Wisdom mocks those who turn away and refuse knowledge and truth. I love that. A lot of people don't like to hear that, but I find it very heart-warming.

Jesus believing it literal should be enough for anyone. There is no excuse for those who disbelieve.

God rightly mocks the unbeliever. I bet He riffs on unbelievers all day in heaven just like my favorite all-time show 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' riffs on bad movies. And I bet His jokes are even funnier seeing has how He invented humor in the first place.

Even so seemingly little as the apostles waking Jesus up in the boat when that storm was raging was called unbelief by Jesus, so make no mistake about it, as Dan pointed out about rejecting established bible truths, it is definitely considered unbelief by Jesus, (The One who will be passing the final judgement on each and every person).

word verification: 'gesttic'
(I'd like to add an M-a-j to the beginning of that).

Mike Riccardi said...

MR{2}, or: Deutericcardi

LOL! That's perfect!

We're such nerds...

Esther said...

"Honestly, can you imagine being at work and debating whether that order from the boss is meant to be taken literally? Oh, I know it says "Be at work at 9, but he didn't specify time zone."

The problem is the Word of God being treated like your order at McDonald's gets treated: barely listened to, repeated wrongly, and obeyed incorrectly. Fast food religion at its finest."

I will be quoting Doug Hibbard on FB...Doug, do you want to be credited with this? (serious question!)

I never. never. never. leave these comment threads without laughing out loud. Christians are so fun...

Stefan Ewing said...


When you first posted the short version of this article a week ago, I was convicted.

Of course, I have taken a very high view of Scripture since I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ four years ago. And Luke 24 is a guiding hermeneutical principle for me in reading and studying the whole counsel of God.

And yet...somehow, the degree to which Jesus Christ Himself (not just His Apostles, but He Himself) took a very conservative, literal reading of the Old Testament had never been made so crystal clear. (In hindsight, it's so obvious! He is, after all, God incarnate!)

Nowhere does He massage away or smooth down the rougher edges of the Old Testament. Indeed, He often ratchets up our responsibility towards the Law by a factor of ten!

It makes God's grace all the sweeter and the blood of the Lamb for my sin all the more precious.

It also makes it harder to sweep up the first 39 books of the Bible with the broad brush of "Emmaus Material, otherwise no longer relevant." (Not that I did that, but you know what I mean.)

Verification word: "pyroct"!

Stefan Ewing said...

Well, gee, Mike, surely modern Bible scholars know more than a 2000-year-old uneducated carpenter from the sticks!

naturgesetz said...

But Stefan, when people say they accept the OT as the word of God, it should mean that they accept all 46 books, and not reject books which men five centuries ago decided were inconsistent with their personal opinions and, instead of submitting to the scripture, rejected it in order to cling to their doctrines. To reject seven books of the Old Testament is to reject 1 Timothy 3:16 (a verse which, by the way, gives no grounds whatever for the man-made doctrine of sola scriptura even while it condemns the reformers for throwing books out of their versions of the Bible).

Thomas Louw said...

I been missing all the comments, seems to me you have changed the time you place your posts.
Tom Chantry, I hereby nominate as full PYRO member.

Dan really enjoyed this post.
I just would like to play a little devil’s advocate.

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female [ Genesis 1:27], and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-5)

Isn’t Jesus affirming God as creator of all things and affirming the roles of man and wife here, Jesus is not “literally” confirming a six day creation.

Stefan Ewing said...


Why are you picking on my comment with your off-topic riff? Because I mentioned "39 books"? The other books were not part of the ancient Hebrew canon, a fact long ago recognized by Jerome.

And why stop at 46 books? Why not the 49 books of the Eastern Orthodox church? Or the Books of Enoch or Jubilees, which are canonical in the Ethiopian church?

thomas4881 said...

Deuteronomy 12:32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.

DJP said...

naturewhatever - But Stefan, when people say they accept the OT as the word of God, it should mean that they accept all 46 book

And the books of Mormon? Wait, which cult are you channeling? Oh, "pope, pope, pope." Right.

So, wrong: the 39 previously-accepted canonical books that Jesus and the apostles affirmed.

And you are not welcome to try to divert the discussion into the reinvention of that particular wheel.

Doug Hibbard said...


You (and anyone else) is welcome to quote anything I say. You can claim it as your own if people like it, and you're free to blame it on me if they don't.

Thanks for thinking it's worth quoting!


Robert said...


I had no problem with what you wrote...it is just that some people take the guidance of the Spirit a little far and when they see that mentioned, they make an off-topic voyage to places better left uncharted.

Dave said...

"What did Jesus (not) say about...how to understand the OT"

The pope can proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly.

Steve Drake said...

Thomas Louw said:
'Isn’t Jesus affirming God as creator of all things and affirming the roles of man and wife here, Jesus is not “literally” confirming a six day creation.'

I could be wrong, Thomas, and stand corrected if Dan wishes, but I think he (Dan) was pointing out that Jesus here in this passage was connecting the historicity of both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, by tying
Gen.1:27 and Gen.2:24 together. If Jesus Himself is referring to a verse in Genesis 1 as true history, and a verse in Genesis 2 as true history, then it begs the question to say that the earlier part of Gen.1 describing the six days is also not true history.

DJP said...

< one finger on nose, points other finger at Steve >

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Tom Chantry: "The emergence of life from non-life, or of a life-sustaining planet from - anything, really - has never been observed."

This is a killer observation that I like to use in debates with evolutionists, both atheistic and theistic evolutionists.

Know what they do?

They say they're not talking about abiogenesis and that my killer observation does not blow up their evolution dogma. I.e., Darwin doesn't talk about abiogenesis, so shut up Mr. Creation Man, or please shut up that Mr. Fundamentalist Anti-Evolution, Anti-Science, Bible-thumping literalist who's quite literally a moron.

And then my abiogenesis refutation gets booted off the table as a legitimate method of discrediting evolutionary dogma.

Summary: Abiogenesis is a non-starter for the evilution nuts.

Doug Hibbard said...


Thanks for the help. That's actually part of what I'm needing to strengthen: making my point without opening up too many rabbit trails!

If I was thin-skinned and thick-skulled, this would be a waste of time to be involved with.

So again, I appreciate your point. You helped me see a weak side to my style even while agreeing with the idea. That's a good thing.

TAR said...

Excellent ....Thanks Dan

Martin said...

OK, I'll be tail end charly as usual

Thank you so much for this Dan and if I quote you on Premier please forgive me.

DJP said...

"Quote [me] on Premier"? Oh dear, is that a British expression?

Pastor Bob said...

Jesus took the book of Jonah literal and historical:
Matthew 12.38-42

Robert said...


I'd say that is a manifestation of Romans 1 - supressing the truth...worshiping creation in lieu of Creator. And following down the path of evolution clearly leads to God turning people over to deprave dminds. Just look at Nietzsche and Hitler (and there are many others) if you need examples of the implications of evolution/survival of the fittest.

Julian said...

Uhh... John Piper is a continuationist, and apparently you hold him in high regard. But in other words, let's not sound like the Corinthian church when we bash our guests, please.

Jugulum said...

Note: This thread is fairly off-topic.


Going back to this comment.

A heads-up summary, to head off misunderstanding: The thrust of this comment is that origins is not inherently outside the realm of science. Any evidence about it would necessarily be weaker (probably much much weaker), but it's conceivable to scientifically test hypotheses that have to do with origins, even without having any example of life-from-non-life or formation-of-a-planet to compare to.

In the cyanide example: You don't need to first observe previously-known victims of cyanide poisoning in order to scientifically test the hypothesis that your corpse was killed by cyanide. (And you don't need to have the ability to test directly for the presence of cyanide molecules.) In that case, you just have a bigger hypothesis: "The effects of cyanide poisoning should be X, Y, and Z, and this body was killed by cyanide." If you have an understanding of human biochemistry, you could make those predictions about the physical effects. Then you find a corpse, and it has a couple of those traces, so you hypothesize that you'll find the others, too. Any successful predictions would be scientific evidence. For it to be persuasive evidence, you'd need to make precise predictions--preferably a lot of them. (And for courtrooms, where the standard is "beyond reasonable doubt", we want the basis for the forensics to be extremely solid--so we want to verify the method using comparisons between lots of known cases, like you said.)

It's a matter of levels of indirectness, and having a bigger chain of connected hypotheses. The evidence is less compelling, the more indirect your observations are. The evidence is less compelling, the more links there are in your overall hypothesis--i.e. the more small hypotheses you have chained together. You're trying to bridge a bigger gap in knowledge, so it needs more evidence to be compelling.

It's science when you're able to predict something about what's on the other side of the gap--and the more you're able to predict, the more compelling it is. (i.e., it becomes harder and harder to believe that the hypothesis is wrong, when you were able to predict so much. If you could only test a vague prediction or two, it's easy to believe the hypothesis is wrong.)

So if Christians are arguing about the scientific de-merits of evolution & abiogenesis, I hope to see them arguing "What predictions have you really tested?" and "That evidence is weak" and "You're making a staggering number of poorly-tested assumptions," not "You're inherently outside the realm of science."

Jugulum said...


Make sure you pay close attention to precisely how they use the distinction between evolution and abiogenesis. If they dismiss your refutation as totally irrelevant, that's clearly unreasonable. But if they say, "Disproving the possibility of abiogenesis doesn't disprove the idea that life developed to its current point through millions of years of macro-evolution," then that's clearly correct. (I think it disproves materialism/atheism, but not macroevolution.)

Jeff Fischer said...

Got some reservations about a purely literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Now, I think everything tastes better with bacon, and I’m not in the habit of quoting the pope. I reject atheism. I believe every word of the Bible is true. Jesus is Lord, and our resurrected Redeemer. But…

Was Moses just taking dictation when he wrote Genesis, or was he recounting his best (and obviously well-educated) understanding of primeval history? Elsewhere in the Pentateuch, when God spoke directly to Moses, the text clearly indicates as much. In Exodus and Leviticus entire chapters start something like “The LORD said unto Moses,” and then a direct quote from God follows. Genesis reads differently.

In Matthew 19:3-12, Jesus is teaching about divorce and marriage. He is quoting Genesis, thereby affirming that it is Scripture and that it true and authoritative. But is He not actually silent concerning the genre of the quotations?

Respectfully, William